Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pictures from the Lahore Press Club Protest

Pictures from the Islamabad Protest

© photos copyright Fauzia Minallah

All Pictures are credited to Fauzia Minallah

Massive Student Protest in Islamabad - Eyewitness Account

On the call of the Student Action Committee (Islamabad) over a 1000 protesters gathered at Aabpara Chowk in Islamabad today. The rally consisted mostly of students from many different universities of Islamabad and surrounding areas. Lawyers, NGOs, Human Rights workers, journalists and members of civil society also joined in to show their support to the students. They were holding flags, banners, placards, posters and flags and were demanding an end to all the draconian policies post Nov-3 and an immediate restoration of the deposed judges and lifting on all curbs on media.
The protest started peacefully at 3 pm. Participants showed their extreme hate towards inhumane ordinances with slogans such as "Rule of Guns and batons, will not work", "The policies of terror, are unacceptable". There was a specially prepared car with a loudspeaker on top that played national anthems and songs in praise of the brave Pakistanis who were fighting for their right for a normal democratic country.
As the protest started moving towards the police club, the police surrounded the protesters threatening dire consequences if they continued to move on. The protesters had made their mind that they will use their fundamental right to protest peacefully and non-violently and resisted to police intimidation. After a few rounds of negotiation the police allowed the protesters to proceed in "groups of 4" for "security reasons". Apparently, students are the new terrorists to them.
Female students proceeded initially but when police stopped all men from joining the proceedings they returned and refused to move till their male counterparts were also allowed to proceed. Someone had heard a few policemen talking about arresting the male protesters under Section 114 which suspends the fundamental human right of organizing a group meeting or rally and no one was willing to risk an arrest of any of their fellows. It was really heartening to see much solidarity amongst students who had all come from different schools, colleges and universities and from diverse backgrounds to come to the help of each other. We can find solace in the fact that the future leaders of Pakistan are united in their demand to save Pakistan and have forgotten their personal differences.
After the first cordon-off, the police surrounded the students another time this time hoping to intimidate them again to stop the protest. The indiscriminately hit a few students in a cowardly attempt to shatter their morale and stop their peaceful struggle. The students did not resist but more importantly did not give up. They sat down in front of the police and again after negotiations they were allowed to move forward but this time one at a time.
The students regrouped again and started moving together as one body. Many had received threats from bullies sitting in government offices to stop speaking up against tyranny and so were really particular in not moving ahead alone. Given thousands have 'disappeared' without charges or ever being brought before a court, it hardly came as a surprise. They wanted to be safe.
This time the police stooped to a new low and started targeting women. Ghazala Minallah sustained injuries on her face. Other prominent human rights activists were also targetted. Farzana Bari, Hajra Ahmad, Alia and Asha Amir Ali also got hit with batons. After watching such police brutality the students of Pakistan could not hold themselves any longer. The retaliated in self-defence and to protect the innocent women who were being specifically targeted. Many came forward to protect the women and put themselves as shields. Some were brave enough to pull batons away from the policemen. Some used their own flags to prevent the police from hitting women. In the struggle that followed many students got beaten up while a significant proportion of policemen also suffering some beating.
A few helmets of the Riot police fell to the ground, many of their batons were taken by the students and it adequately depicted the future to come: students will resist illegal authority, protect their fellow citizens of Pakistan and of course topple a draconian regime the same way they forced the police to withdraw. Forthwith the procession went ahead to the press club uninterrupted to show solidarity with the journalists. Many prominent speakers ranging from Iqbal Haider from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Marvi Samad, an activist spoke to this reinvigorated crowd that was louder than before.
The Students of Pakistan are not dead. They are coming out numbers to take back their Pakistan!
- Caped Avenger

Call for condemning this inhumane targeted beating of women by Policemen:

The police today was from a section of Capital Police. The Additional SP in today's protest was Nasir Aftab (who was also responsible for ordering baton charge on students and arresting 48 juveniles.) You can call him at 0300-8505563 to show your disgust as this level of indecency shown today. The Magistrate for today's protest was Kamran Cheema who is the same Magistrate who has repeatedly claimed that the CJ and the other honorable judges are allowed to move freely and who also suggested that Benazir was free to move about when police had barricaded her house. He can be reached at 9261163 (between 9-5). Please do convey your sentiments to these "defenders of the people of Pakistan" and anyone relevant.

Pictures From the Vigil at Justice Shahid Siddiqui's GOR residence

Human shield prevents forcible eviction of Justice Shahid Siddiqui!

Attempts to forcibly evict Justice Shahid Siddiqui from his official residence: Civil society activists, lawyers and retired judges – including Asma Jahangir, Hina Jilani, Asad Jamal and many others stayed outside his house all night (in the bitter Lahore cold).

They are rotating some 40-50 protesters outside the house at any given time forming a human shield to prevent the Punjab government from forcibly evicting him, said Hamid Khan (former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association). He said that there are only two non-PCO judges living in government housing in Lahore's GOR, Justice Shahid Siddiqui and Justice Ijaz Ahmed Choudhry – the others live in their own residences.

Several student protesters from the lahore press club protest later joined the vigil outside Justice Siddiqui's house. By4.30 pm, scores of student activists had gathered there. "The Justice also came out to speak to the protesters and lauded the efforts of the lawyers, students, media and activists. The protest went ahead despite threats from the police to arrest students from the universities involved."

When the current 'CJ' sent eviction orders to them (in violation of their own rules, which state that even on forced retirement an employee is given six months notice to find alternate accommodation), Shahid Siddiqui responded by challenging his authority and serving a contempt of court notice on him (posted yesterday on this list).


An FIR against two students and 4 faculty members was given to the LUMS guards today, probably in the late afternoon. They have been charged for nothing less than: Wall Chalking the police station wall. There is a problem with this:

1. Saad Latif, the Student Council President was out on an LAS trip for the last two weeks or so. In Manglixir, he could not have wall chalked the DHA thana.
2. Currently, there is no such Professor Farhat ul Haq at LUMS. In the last month or so there has not been any such person in LUMS.
3. Dr. Rasool Baksh: He's an aged dignified Professor, not an angry teenager, for God sakes...
4. Osama Siddiqi: He's been in the US for some time, meeting the who's who of America. I hope he will get back at these people.
5. Aasim Sajjad: Everyone knows that he is in the streets of Islamabad, doing bigger things than wallchalking. They just did a one-thousand-people-strong protest in Islamabad today.

Is this the kind of 'terrorism' that this Emergency was supposed to deter? Are these the infamous 'terrorists' and 'criminals'? Is this the kind of totalitarian state you want to live in?

If not, join us. Dont leave us alone in this critical hour. We may forget the acts of our enemy but we will never forget the silence of our friends.

Response to Ghazala Minallah's letter to Benazir Bhutto

(This is a response to the demands of the boycott; it puts things in their context and sheds light on what we know little about: the politics of boycott)

Dear Civil Society colleagues,

I have been reading the emotional e-mails and blogpostings by some of you (most notably GhazalaMinAllah's open Letter to Benazir Bhutto) demanding that Pakistan's political parties, especially PPP, follow non-political civil society organizations indemanding restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other members of the unlawfully removed judiciary over and above all else.
There is also clamour that elections should be boycotted until judges are restored to their offices.
Civil society is fresh from its success of getting Justice Chaudhry restored a few months ago. But thenthe mechanism of restoration was street protests (backed by opposition parties) and a successful appeal to the Supreme Court itself. What mechanism do people have in mind this time? To think that General Musharraf will roll up his bed and go home after our demonstrations and the flurry of emails is a mistake.He could hand over power to another General, which won't solve Pakistan's rule of law problem.
It is time we take a long, hard look at our relationship with political parties and put our weight behind them rather than making the unrealistic demand that they follow us. The goal remains the same--restoration of the judiciary and supremacy of the constitution--but the "trashing the mainstream parties" approach should give way to respecting their weight and sacrifices, too. Aitzaz Ahsan, a PPP candidate for the National Assembly again, would most likely agree with me.
There is a long history of suspicion and criticism of the PPP by civil society organizations and admittedly Pakistan's politicians and parties are far from perfect. But let us face it, in the real world civi society assists political parties. It is not a substitute for them.
Wherever civil society has erroneously convinced itself that it can operate against or independent of politics, the establishment has thrived. Take the example of Egypt, which has more NGOs per capita than any other country. These NGOs denigrated Egypt's mainstream political parties in the 1980s and 1990s just as we are running down the PPP nowadays. The result is the entrenchment of Hosni Mubarak's Mukhabarat (Intelligence agencies) dictatorship.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has been unequivocal in her support for the judiciary and there is no need to launch into long letters based on a single sentence here or there. She is a politician and must deal with multiple constituencies and demands, unlike most of us who have no compulsions. Our personal worst case scenario is that our next blog posting would be hacked. Ms Bhutto, her family and her party have paid a heavy price for confronting Pakistan's military and intelligence machinery. Their flaws and faults aside, there is no denying they have fought and borne the brunt of the repression of the Zia and Musharraf dictatorships.
Benazir Bhutto is on record as saying "Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary is our Chief Justice." Why do we not proceed on that statement and seek its reiteration instead of attacking Mohtarma?
The problem is that civil society has a strong non-political component whereas Ms Bhutto is a political leader. A politician must weigh all options. What if a polls boycott fails and, like 1985, the new assembly becomes operational without any real opposition? Then civil society would be easily smashed.
Also, an election campaign can help mobilize masses (as it did in 1977) and become the forerunner of a bigger protest movement against polls rigging. Imran Khan and some of his supporters are wrongly assuming that Benazir Bhutto's concern in not limiting themselves to the judiciary demand relates to NRO.
Having shouted at the top of their voices for a decade about the cases these people really believe that is Benazir Bhutto's real problem. It is not. Spain has already dismissed the case on grounds of inadequate evidence. The Swiss case is in its death throes. The London case is being quashed by the Appeals Court and the Pakistani cases will get nowhere given that they got nowhere in eleven years. So silly suggestions like"If we reassure Mohtarma that we will end the cases to get her to boycott the elections then maybe PPP will boycott" are based on a wrong premise.
Those who have never contested, lost or won an election do not understand the dynamic of elections. Especially in rural areas it is very difficult to stop people from voting. An election is one occasion when the poor get attention from the candidates. They do not want to miss this opportunity.
Even now, a boycott would be successful only in Lahore, Peshawar and possibly Rawalpindi-Islamabad. The Chaudhries will ensure a high turnout in Gujranwala division. Southern Punjab will turn out to vote for the traditional leaders and MQM will get the vote out in Sindh's large cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. If PPP boycotts, there might be low turnout in rural Sindh but who will be there to see it? Poor Balochistan seldom counts in electoral arithmetic. The result of a boycott would be a two-thirds majority for Musharraf's PML-Q, which would then do whatever it pleases wih the constitution.
In 1985, Ziaul Haq used smaller parties in MRD to pressure Benazir Bhutto into boycotting the non-party polls. All those advocating the boycott later turned out to be ISI's people. (Read accounts of that election in books by General K.M. Arif and others).
In principle, it sounds very logical to argue "We will not legitimize the election" by participating. In practice, let us go through the mechanism of what might happen. Elections take place, are boycotted by the opposition, result in a four-fifths "win" for PML-Q and JUI.

Then what? Street protests against the illegitimate assemblies? Who will ensure these protests will be big enough to make a difference? Assuming the protests are very large and sufficient to force Musharraf's hand, what would be the next step? Resignation and handing over power to the army chief? Is that what we want or need? Let us give the politicians, especially Benazir Bhutto, credit in figuring out how to work out a political formula of participating in elections under protest and then using the polls campaign as a springboard for a methodical protest campaign. Let us remember that civil society is very important but it is never a substitute for political parties. If international pressure makes the polls freer, the opposition can win and force Musharraf's hand. If the election is rigged, a wider anti-rigging campaign can be launched with the involvement of the poor voters who will feel cheated. In either case, Musharraf will have to talk to the opposition and an alternative way for his exit can be found than another military intervention.

As for the judiciary, civil society should focus on getting an unequivocal commitment from the political parties that they will restore the pre-November 3 judiciary upon being elected. And make the judiciary issue part of the polls campaign, alongside economic and other issues, instead of insisting that it be considered a separate matter from the country's overall politics.I know my view runs contrary to the sentiment of most civil society activists but I request that it be given careful consideration. After all, I am one of you and am not part of the Pakistani political system.

Wasiq Ali

( The Emergency Times Eds- While its clear what stance we the students have taken on the issue of elections, this article admittedly does provoke thought and debate regarding the PPP's stance and the political subtleties that parties must consider. Critical responses to this article will be posted soon. While in no way do we denounce strategic moves such as using electioneering as a tool to mobilise the masses, our basic demand of non participation in the actual election remains. As such the particular gameplans of the parties are not our concern but on this principled stance we stand united. As to the merits and demerits of a boycott in the current context, an exegesis shall follow)

GEO Petition Dismissed!

Dec 4 update:

This morning, after dragging the case for weeks, the Sindh High Court dismissed Geo's petition to restore at least its non-news channels (sports, entertainment and youth) as 'non-maintainable under the PCO'.

US Human Rights Activists Harassed!

Press Release: December 4
Contact in Pakistan: 0308-204-2346

US Human Rights Activists Harassed by Pakistani GovernmentU.S. human rights activists Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry were on their way to a student rally at the Lahore Press Club at 3pm on Tuesday, December 4, when they were stopped outside the Club gates by six plainclothes government agents. They were told they had to leave the country because their visas had expired. Both, however, have valid visas.The government agents grabbed Barry by the arm and tried to hold him. Benjamin got help from some journalists, who managed to escort the two activists inside the Club. At 5pm, prominent lawyer Khummeram Khosa drove his car into the Press Club premises to escort the activists out of the Club. The government agents, on three motorcycles, followed their car through the city streets. When the activists tried to call the media, they discovered that their phone was being jammed. The activists returned to the Press Club to alert the media about this harassment. They also advised the U.S. Embassy. "It's a sad state of affairs when the Pakistani government—a government that is trying to portray itself to the West as democratic—tries to harass and deport U.S. human rights activists," say Benjamin. "If they do this to us, who have the protection of being US citizens, imagine what they do to their own citizens." "We will not be intimidated," says Barry. "We will continue our activities here in support of Pakistanis struggling for democracy, and we call on the Pakistani government to stop harassing us and respect our rights." Benjamin and Barry are members of the U.S. human rights group Global Exchange and the women's peace group CODEPINK. They have been in Pakistan since November 25 on a mission to learn about and support Pakistani civil society. They have been meeting with lawyers, students, judges, journalists and political leaders. They also conducted a 24-hour vigil outside the home of prominent lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who is under house arrest. Through these activities, they have received tremendous support and appreciation from the Pakistani people. Today, they received a Letter of Thanks from the Lahore High Court Bar Association. The lawyer extended "heartfelt gratitude for showing solidarity with the legal community of Pakistan" and for helping to "boost the moral of the Pakistani lawyers in their just struggle for the restoration of the Constitution."

A student movement?

It is not yet a student movement but at least the student community is in motion and ferment again after a lapse of a couple of decades. Whether this will develop into a movement is still to be seen. Students who had been absent, during the period from March to November in the struggle for the rule of law and for the freedom of the press, were suddenly galvanised by the events of 3rd November and the subsequent destruction of the constitution and the judiciary by Gen Musharraf. This is all the more remarkable as these students are primarily from the elite universities whom one would think have benefited most from the consumer boom and the neo-liberal policies of Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz. It is easy to be cynical about this embryo movement but there has already been one very significant and positive development and that is the fact that after nearly forty years the hold of the IJT on the Punjab University Campus seems to be broken. It is astonishing how rapidly the “hawa” of the IJT collapsed with the visit of Imran Khan to PU. In retrospect it is clear that the political atmosphere there had changed and it only required a trigger to precipitate that change. That trigger was provided by Imran’s visit. For the first time girls at PU are able to voice their opinions without the fear of the IJT goondas.

A few days ago I attended a meeting of students, from various universities in Lahore, who are organising the student demonstrations against Musharraf and for the restoration of the pre 3rd of November Supreme Court. The students, like other sectors of society, are demonstrating for the withdrawal of Emergency, restoration of the Constitution will all fundamental rights, for a free judiciary, removal of judges appointed under the infamous PCO and the withdrawal of the ban and restrictions on all print and electronic media. They see these minimum steps as prerequisites to re-establishing the rule of law in this country, so blatantly violated by Musharraf, and to ensuring that there will be free and fair elections.

The meeting took me back forty years to when I attended meetings of the Students for a Democratic Society, the famous SDS, at the University of Chicago. The SDS originally was concerned with civil rights issues, like the condition of Black Americans and the question of free speech (recall the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, led by Mario Savio). It later became the leading student group against the war on most US campuses. Its working strategy was based on participatory democracy and direct action. It was characterised by radicalism and student power. It had a strong belief in decentralisation and a distrust for most organisation and operated on a meagre budget and did not have a strong central bureaucracy. The meeting in Lahore reflected many of these aspects of the SDS. The same idealistic, youthful faces, chaotic meeting, no acceptance of leaders, wariness of leaders within the student movement and without, a multitude of different positions, a fear of the major parties using the student movement for their own purposes, hours and hours of discussion before any decision was taken, the striving for consensus and the stress on non-violence.

Following this meeting I participated in the student demonstration at Liberty Chowk on Friday the 30th. It was wonderful to see the youthful energy, the enthusiasm and the idealism of these students. It was the more surprising in that the majority of these students belonged to the well off classes, coming mostly from elite universities like LUMS, FAST, BNU with very few from PU for example. For me what is amazing is that these students are coming out to protest not for themselves per se (they are pretty well off and their future is assured) but for democratic principles and to safeguard the future of Pakistan. Unlike the SDS’s Free Speech Movement, which was for the right of free speech on campuses, or the anti-Vietnam movement, which was fuelled by the fear of the draft, Pakistani students are taking a stand on principles, which they rightly believe are necessary for a democratic and modern Pakistan. They see that the future of Pakistan is inexorably linked with democracy and the rule of law and for the end of military rule, whether direct or disguised. I do not here intend to belittle the SDS because not only did it play a vital role in the anti-Vietnam war movement but in spite of being essentially a white middle class organisation based in the elite universities (Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Berkeley) it did actively make civil rights for Black Americans a central part of its programme and activities.

It is very easy to be critical of these upper class students. But from what I saw they are sincere in their wish to see Pakistan a democratic and just society. However, unlike the SDS which took up the cause of the disenfranchised and oppressed black population of the States, the student movement in Pakistan, much like the rest of the so-called civil society (a phrase which I dislike as it doesn’t mean anything; are others uncivil?), has not yet talked about the tremendous poverty in this country and has not yet taken up the issues of economic and social justice. The history of the SDS was different as it grew out of a socialist educational organisation. In contrast to the SDS, the Students Action Committee in Lahore is fairly heterogeneous, with very few students who consider themselves “leftists” (socialism is still a taboo word). However I had the impression that the leading role was being taken by progressive students. There were students, at the meeting, who could be classified as “rightists”. But these are early days and there is the need for unity of action concentrated on immediate issues of democracy and justice. Nevertheless some students who believe that the struggle should be linked to issues of social and economic justice have formed a more restricted Progressive Student Action Committee.

Given the class background of most of these students, they are still wary of taking direct action on the streets unlike the legal community and journalists. Most of the action has been limited to protests on campus but recently in Lahore there have been two major demonstrations on the streets organised by students, one a march from the Press Club to the Geo offices on Davis Road and the other the demonstration at Liberty. However there have been small quick `guerrilla’ actions by a handful of students. The students are not yet prepared to really go on the streets, like for example protest on the Mall and stop the traffic. They do not want a confrontation with the police, even in a non-violent manner.

Another interesting fact already mentioned above is that from March till 3rd November students as a group did not take active part in the protests. True there were individual students who were very active in Islamabad in front of the Supreme Court during all this time but they were there as individuals. But November 3 produced a qualitative change in that students joined the protests collectively. Something clicked at that point. As usual there are coincidental, contingent reasons for this change, e.g. the fact that some LUMS teachers happened to be at the HRCP office in Lahore on the 4th of November when the police arrived to break up the meeting and arrest the participants, including the LUMS teachers. This is what triggered student activism at LUMS and focussed the minds of students on the nature of the Musharraf regime. If there had not been this incident I doubt if LUMS students would have protested. But history is full of contingent causes.

In spite of these limitations I believe that the involvement of students is a very positive step towards the establishment of democracy and justice in Pakistan. I don’t want to overestimate the nascent student movement but neither do I want to downplay its significance. There is a call by the Students Action Committee for a nationwide student protest on 4th December. Students in the major cities of Pakistan are linking up and the success or otherwise of this protest day will tell us about the real strength of this movement and the prospects of its growth. One of the demands, which is beginning to be formulated, is student specific and that is for lifting the ban on student unions. In my opinion student unions are a healthy expression of student aspirations. Students are an important conscious element of society and their collective voice should be heard.

Another fact worth noting is that the lawyers and journalists movement has been joined not only by the usual suspects, NGOs and `civil society’ organisations and now students but also, perhaps surprisingly, by young professionals particularly in the IT sector. Both students and IT professionals are characterised by the fact that they belong to the modern Internet linked world. They have access to world media, particularly alternate media and this has broadened their perspectives on Pakistan. They are in a better position to situate Pakistan in the larger world context and are able to see how other countries and societies benefit from a democratic dispensation. Although the vast majority of the poor working classes are missing from this movement it is significant and a very positive development that at least some segments of the educated section of society are concerned with justice and democracy and do not just think of their own immediate welfare.

Within the last couple of years two events have given me hope for the future of Pakistan. The first event was the tremendous response by the people of Pakistan to the tragedy of the October 2005 earthquake. There was a huge aid effort mounted by ordinary people to help their fellow citizens in Kashmir and NWFP. But what I want to stress here is the response of the children of the elite. Students from all schools and universities, be they state or private, mobilised to collect relief and transport this to the affected areas. My point here is that the rich upper class students of institutions like LUMS, whom one would have suspected to have been immune to the suffering of the poor, also made large and significant contributions. I don’t want to make too much of this as I know that they still belong to the exploiting classes and when they went home after doing all the charity work they still had their drivers and servants. They didn’t think about raising their salaries or treating them better. But at least there is still a spark alive in them which allowed them to see for a moment the fellow humanity of the poor people affected by the earthquake. One can of course dismiss the earthquake charity work as noblesse oblige but I think it is more than that.

The earthquake relief effort by poor and rich alike from as far as Baluchistan and Sindh demonstrated that the ordinary people of Pakistan have a sense of unity. The earthquake brought out the feeling that we all, who live on this piece of earth, are in this together and we have to support and help each other. This feeling was more real and worth much more than all the platitudes mouthed by our dictators about national unity while they continue to bomb and kill their own fellow citizens.

The second series of events that give me hope for Pakistan is the response to the removal of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March and the whole movement for the establishment of the rule of law and the end of one-man military rule in Pakistan. The fact that the educated conscious segment of society has come out for the defence of principles rather than personal short term gains is a good harbinger for the future of Pakistan. It is easy to say where are the masses? Does one forget so easily the thousands who came out to cheer and welcome the CJ on his drive from Islamabad to Lahore and the large crowds who gathered to listen to him wherever he went? These were not just lawyers. There were many ordinary citizens who realised that this was a historical period in Pakistan where for the first time the judiciary had stood up to defend the rule of law and its own institution against the arbitrary actions of a military dictator. The fact that students have joined them, even in limited numbers, is of great significance. Student activism on campus should be welcomed because for too long students have become apolitical and only interested in their own careers. If these events trigger even a few minds to think about the broader social and political problems of this country it will be a major positive development. For too long university campuses have become sterile without a semblance of debate. It is time that campuses again reverberate to fervent passionate debate and become breeding grounds for people who want to promote progressive social and political change in Pakistan.

Faheem Hussain
Visiting Professor of Physics
School of Science and Engineering