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Pakistan: Victory for Pakistan's Long March!
[Farooq Tariq is a leader of the Labour Party Pakistan. A representative of the LPP will be attending the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia, April 10-12. For more information, or to book tickets, visit http://www.worldatacrossroads.org. Below are a collection of some of Farooq's regular reports on the situation in Pakistan over the past week. Thanks to Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific for making the reports available (more are available there) to Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]
By Peter Boyle and Farooq Tariq
March 16, 2009 -- Mass resistance to the Peoples Party of Pakistan (PPP) government's attempt to suppress a massive people's movement for the restoration of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry appears to have triumphed after a massive showdown in the streets of Lahore yesterday.
The Zardari government's backdown followed five days of mass protests, and vicious police repression, around the country which left it increasingly isolated. The movement focussed on a planned Long March on the capital, Islamabad which was to culminate today in a mass sit-in.
The government's information minister Sherry Rehman resigned after the government attempted to block transmissions of the Geo News TV channel, which was broadcasting the Long March live. Several PPP leaders abandoned the the government on this issue and yesterday some police officers tendered their resignation rather than continue to repress the popular movement led by militant lawyers.
Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) spokesperson Farooq Tariq tells the story of one police officer's brave decision:
"I am underground and safe so far. The reason is that the top police officer of Lahore, just appointed by PPP regime, is from my home town and a university fellow. He is Amjad Javed Saleemi deputy inspector general operations Lahore. I am like his teacher for long time. He knew about my health. He came to see me before this incident. He told me that police will not come to my home but that I was in the A-grade category list of those wanted persons.
"Despite that, I did not trust him and left home. But so for he has kept his word and police has not come to my place... It has just been reported that he has resigned from the police
to join the Long March. Bushra Khaliq general secretary of Women Workers' Help Line just called
me to tell that that when Amjad Saleemi came to Lahore High Court, he
was given a hero welcome.
"Amjad Javed told a reporter that when a women is giving birth to a baby at a police barricade because she was stopped, `I cannot remain a police officer in silence. I resigned because of this incident and also to show solidarity with the lawyers movement.'
"Amjad really hated the militarisation of society. Last time, we met was my brothers sons and daughters marriage ceremony in end of December 2008. He came especially to Toba Tek Singh to attend the ceremony with his wife. He was very critical even at the time.
"Several more police officers are also been reported to have resigned.
"The mass uprising is inflicting cracks in the regime establishment. There is no other way but to restore the judges."
The Lahore rebellion
By Farooq Tariq
March 15, 2009 -- The fight is going on. The police are sometimes retreating and then come back to use tear gas. The protesters are also determined to express their right to get together. The police fired directly at the demonstrators. One casualty is Shahid Siddique, the newly elected president of Lahore High Bar Association.
Thousands of rounds of tear gas have been fired at the General Post Office Chowk. Many have been injured. Leading human rights activist Asma Jehanghir is also been effected badly.
The Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) contingent arrived at GPO Chowk at
around 1pm. It included several women. Maqsood Mujahid, member the national
executive committee LPP told me on phone that all have been effected by
the police attacks but all are in high spirits.
When they left the LPP office to go to the main place of demonstration, it was clear to them that they were going to be arrested but they all wanted to go ahead. Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) leader Mian Nawaz Sharif is on the way to Lahore after breaking all police barriers and thousands are with him.
All the measures and strategies of police have been shattered by mass
power. They could not repeat what they could do in Karachi, Hyderabad
and Multan during the last three days. It seems a total collapse of the state arrangements to stop the rally.
The whole city is coming onto the streets. The police brutalities of
the last few days are coming to an end.
The PPP regime has no option but to accept the demands of restoration of judges.
From Islamabad, I got a call from Nisar Shah, LPP general secretary. He is now being hunted by the police after he made a successful escape after being arrested along with another comrade. He was with Javed Hashmi, a leader of Muslim League, who is now also arrested.
Nisar Shah is hiding in a flat of unknown people who offered him to provide a shelter.
Labour Party Pakistan activists arrested and beaten up
By Farooq Tariq
March 12, 2009 -- Police in Karachi arrested have three activists of the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and dozens of lawyers and other political activists were also arrested. They were part of the long march by the lawrs' movement, which started this morning from Karachi after police failed to stop it. The march was stopped outside Karachi at Toll Plaza by police. All the participants were forcefully turned back and those who resisted were arrested.
The police targeted Nasir Mansoor, the LPP's national labour secretary and member of national executive committee of LPP. He was severely beaten up and his car was snatched. He was shifted to a hospital in an ambulance. Here, police arrested Shela Rezwan, LPP Sindh committee member, Samina from the People's Resistance and Sadiq and Khalid of LPP Karachi. Shela and Samina were released after a few hours but Sadiq and Khalid are still in police custody. Police also arrested the main leadership of the lawyers' movement here. Most of the television channels broadcasted the arrests and the beating of Nasir.
The LPP has announced two protest demonstrations on March 13 against the police repression and arrests. The Karachi demonstration will be at 3pm in front of Karachi Press Club and the Lahore demonstration will be held in front of Lahore Press Club at 4pm. We request all political and trade unions and social activists to join the demonstration.
* * *
March 11, 2009 -- The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government has imposed section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in all districts of Punjab. This is to stop the proposed long march called by the lawyers' movement, due to start on March 12 from Quetta and Karachi.
Under section 144, no protest march or gathering of people at one place would be allowed. The people arrested during this period could be kept under detention for up to three months. The electronic media is reporting the lists of the political activists to be arrested or detained by the government.
After just a year in power, the PPP government has decided to use force and repeat what was happening under dictator General Pervez Musharraf.
The Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) national executive committee met in Lahore for two days. It decided to go ahead and participate in the long march and sit-in called by lawyers' movement, which is demanding the restoration of judges sacked by former president Musharraf. [See http://links.org.au/node/926 for more information.]
The LPP has directed all its members to go on an all-out effort to participate in the lawyers' movement long march. The LPP Sindh has planned two buses to join the long march March 12 from Karachi. The majority of LPP participants are working-class women. They will join the long march despite all the threats of being arrested.
Here in Lahore, LPP representatives participated in an organising committee meeting called by Lahore High Court Bar Association. LPP Punjab will also join the long march from Lahore with two buses. The long march participants will be welcomed by comrades of the LPP in almost all the major cities on the route of the march. The LPP Lahore will participate in the March 12 rally of the lawyers.
In Lahore, police made a failed attempt to arrest two main leaders of the LPP late last night. Police were looking for the house of Azra Shad, chairperson Women Workers Help Line and a member of the national committee of LPP. In an another attempt, Rana Asharaf, district secretary the LPP Sheikhupura, successfully escaped arrest late last night. They both will be alongside dozens of others who will participate in the long march despite the police threats.
I have gone underground late last night. Although, police had not turned up at my home as is the usual case in such circumstances, comrades advised me to go to a safer place. This was due to my health problems. I will not be taking part in the long march as I must rest after going through angioplasty. However, comrades of the LPP will not let anyone feel my absence by their active participation. Before I left home late last night, I was interviewed by Kawish Television Networks (KTN). The anchorperson, Manzoor Sheikh, was curious to know what is happening in Punjab. I told him that it is not a national question. It is simple question of betrayal by the PPP leadership who happened to be from Sindh.
It seems that the PPP regime is in retreat after being very aggressive in stopping the proposed long march. They have arrested more than 500 political activists. The strategy to deal with the opposition is very much the same as was the case under former dictator Musharaf. "Arrest the activists and not the main leadership" is the theme behind the wholesale arrests. The Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the a gathering that he will speak to president Zaradari tomorrow about the lifting of governor rule in Punjab. He made vague remarks of the possible new Punjab government. He also tried to say that he will resolve the issue of the judiciary.
[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan.]
Pakistan: Fundamentalists target cricket, state targets democracy activists
By Farooq Tariq
Lahore, March 6, 2009 -- The attack on Sri Lankan cricket team at Liberty Chouck, Lahore, on March 3 left eight police dead and six Sri Lankan cricket players injured in the attack that lasted 25 minutes. Watching footage of the attack, it is clear that religious fundamentalists have struck. There were four of them with hand grenades, rocket launchers, modern rifles and other sophisticated weapons.
The Sri Lankan cricketers were in Lahore for a test match and had already played magnificently for two days at the Gaddafi Stadium. They were on their way from the hotel to the stadium for the third day when the gunmen fired at their vehicle.
The driver said that the cricketers did not panic but lay down in the van as he sped up to escape the gunfire. He managed to get the bullet-riddled to the stadium.
Praying for the quick recovery of the injured cricketers, people all over the country have strongly condemned the incident, which many believe is an attempt to further discredit and isolate Pakistan and especially cricket.
The religious fanatics have targeted sports such as soccer and cricket, terming these as evil sports smuggled in from the West. “It is promoting Western cultural norms, it must not be allowed”, was the justification of the Taliban to ban these sports when it governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
The agenda of the “jihadi” terrorists is clearly not just to enforce what they consider to be an Islamic system, but to overrun and destabilise the state itself. Pakistanis have suffered under this agenda for many years.
This country, which has been under military rule for more than half its 60 years of existence, has paid a heavy price for the policies of military rulers that civilian governments have been unable to change.
These policies include cultivating “Islamic warriors” to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, supporting the Taliban in order to create “strategic depth” in Afghanistan (citing the threat of a hostile India on the eastern border), and using some of these elements to bleed India in the disputed region of Kashmir.
“They were our guests, they came to Pakistan when most people were not willing to come”, said one man in Peshawar on the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. “It is a blot on humanity”, said another. “We hang our heads in shame.”
“As it is, few foreigners come to Pakistan”, said one woman sadly. “Now, no one will come.” Another woman said that Pakistan had been pushed back 10 years by this incident. “We are a friendly and cricket-loving nation”, said another passer-by. “Now, no cricket team will want to play here.”
This will be a big blow to Pakistan’s aspirations to hosting the next World Cup in 2011.
I was shocked to hear top Lahore police officers saying that there was no security lapse. In fact, it could have been avoided with proper security measures.
One must see the incident within the context of the political and bureaucratic changes that took place over the last week.
Lahore’s top police officers were transferred and new people were brought in, mainly to suppress the planned pro-democracy “long march” by lawyers, due to begin on March 12.
Additionally, there has been resistance by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters to the toppling of the provincial government in Punjab.
Lahore’s top police officer, a loyalist of the Peoples’s Party Pakistan (PPP), was just transferred to Lahore from Quetta, Baluchistan. His main priority was to target the lawyers and other political activists demanding an end to dictatorial measures.
A day before the incident, in a special meeting, the Punjab governor, police officers and top bureaucrats discussed how to stop the proposed lawyers’ march. According to media reports about this meeting, they decided on mass arrests.
In those same newspapers there was no hint of any discussion about security for the Sri Lanka team. They were too busy planning to stop opposition demonstrations and transferring their loyalists to key posts.
Since the Supreme Court decision against Sharif brothers from the PML-N and imposition of rule by the governor in Punjab a week ago, the media has been full of such reports.
I know the place where the attack occurred very well. From the footage, it seems that the terrorists were running freely and firing. The presence of a few policemen on the Liberty roundabout would have noticed the presence of these terrorists. The security measures for the team were routine: A police van in front of the team’s bus, another in back and an ambulance. That was it.
Even the Punjab governor would have had more security. In that situation, the whole area is cordoned off.
One private channel journalist who watched the firing reported that the terrorists first attacked the police from the front. They even approached the injured police officer and showered him with more bullets.
According to the journalist, the team was saved by the quick action of the bus driver, not by the police. Had the driver proceeded to cricket stadium, the terrorists would have inflicted more damage. Instead he went in another direction, minimising the danger.
It seems clear that a serious security lapse occurred. The police were too busy with other things. The present Punjab government must accept the responsibility of the security lapse.
The horrific attack in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3 has shocked and saddened people here, already reeling from the suicide and other attacks that have become the norm.
Our condolences go to the families of those killed and our sympathies are with the Sri Lanka cricket team.
Ultimately, those who suffer the most after such incidents are ordinary people Pakistan, regardless of religion.
[This article first appeared in Green Left Weekly, issue #786, March 11, 2009.]