Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pictures and account of yesterday's Islamabad protest

Yesterday, 12th November, the regime crossed a new threshold by shamelessly attacking, arresting and detaining schoolchildren in Islamabad. A group of students, most of them between 14 and 18 years of age, was silently walking towards Blue Area as a sign of protest when it was accosted by Islamabad Police. The Police told the students that they needed special approval from the magistrate's office to walk any further and that they had to wait until such approval or the magistrate himself arrived. The students, unwilling to challenge the police, obliged and sat down where they were. Twenty minutes later, the students were informed that they were not allowed to proceed any further, and were asked to return to their starting point and disperse. Once again, the students obliged, showing that they did not want to confront the Police who were clearly just following orders from above. As they were walking back, the students were surrounded by more than 500 policemen –their ranks now reinforced with Punjab Police and the commandos of the Anti-Terrorist Force –and were asked to disperse immediately. When some of the students pointed out that they were merely walking back to their starting point, as previously ordered, the Police turned violent. They started manhandling the children and pushing them into their trucks. 48 boys were physically assaulted and detained, amongst them a 12-year old boy. Even after they had turned themselves in with docility, many of them were beaten with sticks and severely bruised. They were detained in the Margalla Police Station for hours, and were prevented from meeting visitors or making calls. They were eventually released after they had given written assurances not to attend protests in the future.

From the Editors..

It is imperative that we feel the plight of thousands upon thousands of innocent fellow Pakistanis languishing in overflowing jails right now for no apparent reason other than exercising their basic human rights. Many of them are being tortured into painful submission. We must express solidarity with them and do our utmost to raise our voice against the atrocities being committed by the paragons of oppression. This nation has produced more heroes in the past one week than it has done in decades. We stand by them in these dark times.

In Complete Unity.

Rise of a new Youth Movement

By our very own RBR (published in the Daily Times)

The sudden rise of the social movement rejects the conventional analysis that the youth is depoliticised and mainly interested in advancing their careers What we are witnessing in Pakistan these days is a new social movement that is remarkably different from the ones launched against dictators in the past. It is not being driven as much by the old-fashioned, deal-making power elites as it is by strong popular sentiment among the Pakistani youth inside and outside the country. What is this popular sentiment, and why are the Pakistani youth at the centre of it? What explains the rise of this new social movement? What are its aims, and its chances of success? It is heartening that while the power-elites were still debating how the imposition of martial law in the country would hurt them or create fresh opportunities of cooptation, college and university students along with young media and legal professionals instantly realised the enormity of the act of trashing the constitution and throwing the vast majority of judges of the superior judiciary out of the system.It is perhaps for the first time in the political history of the country that legal and constitutional issues, hitherto a domain of the expert, have entered into the popular imagination with a powerful reminder that what happens in the superior judiciary is a matter of public concern. The unfolding of political events since March and the manner in which the media presented and debated the question of independence of the judiciary on the one hand, and the efforts of the executive to subvert it, brought into sharp relief the value of rule of law, dissent and the larger question of representation in the structures of power.The judicial crisis and the lawyers’ movement captured the attention of all sections of society. But more than any other, the youth became interested in the identity of their state — who controls and runs it and for what purposes — and learnt their first lesson in politics. The lesson was that one or few individuals associated with powerful formal institutions and informal social structures have absolute control over the state and do not care about public interests.In the past, ruling elites got away with acts of corruption, martial laws and emergencies because they could easily manage and control society through a co-opted intermediating class comprising landowners, caste and tribal chiefs and other socially influential figures with an inherent stake in the elitist power structure, often directed and manipulated by the men in uniform. Their recent moves against the constitution and the judiciary are based on the old assumptions about society. Their reading of the changes that have occurred on a global, regional and domestic level does not seem realistic.Demographically, the youth constitutes the largest part of Pakistan’s population. Some of them are enrolled in various modern educational institutions, while others in madrassas. A major portion of the youth, however, remains uneducated and unemployed. Despite belonging to different social strata, they share disrespect for Pakistani power structures and systems of governance. They also have a common vision of a state that is representative and responsive to the needs of society, something elite-dominated or military-ruled states are not. Not all sections of the Pakistani youth possess the same social capacities, political vision or leadership qualities because of their different social backgrounds and degree of exposure to the modern world. College and university graduates have assumed the vanguard role in the emerging social movement of Pakistan. This is a very different generation from the one that had participated in the anti-Ayub agitation. It is distinctive in intellectual development and skills, and is technology savvy. It is wired with the international civil society and likeminded groups everywhere, and can access real time information about events. The most important thing about the rise of the new social movement is that the young Pakistanis have acquired political socialisation in a globalised context with deeper knowledge and understanding of positive changes taking place in other countries, and how their own country is being governed. This generation opened its eyes in the martial law of Zia-ul Haq and has matured in the double martial law of Pervez Musharraf. They are justified in being dismayed and discontented over how their nation and statehood have been repeatedly violated by rapacious military and civil elites.The sudden rise of the social movement rejects the conventional analysis that the youth is depoliticised and mainly interested in advancing their careers. A movement starting in an elite institution like LUMS tells a very different story about this student body, both in private and public universities, that has been organising protest meetings, rallies and demonstrations since the proclamation of emergency rule. They are more interested in the future of their country: how it is ruled, by whom and for what purposes.They have a very different sense of patriotism as they want the country to be civilised, respected internationally and governed under universal norms of law and justice. Let there be no mistake about the new social movement: it is not about resuming political musical chairs with the usual actor or actors turning on and off the tune. This movement, though in its early stages, is essentially about structural change: it demands the restoration of the constitution and the judiciary, the twin victims of the current martial law. It is also about freedoms, rule of law and basic human decency — values at the heart of modern civilisation that the ruling cliques have violated at will.We can’t leave this discussion without asking the question: will it succeed? Given political developments over the past forty years, the old system of power is so unnatural, humiliating, and even unpatriotic that it cannot survive for too long. There is national revolt against it, to which the youth, more than any other sector, is contributing to with an unusual motivation and commitment.This is not likely to end even if the presently dysfunctional regime of General Musharraf takes immediate remedial actions, like holding elections or lifting the state of emergency. The focus of the struggle is the constitution and an independent judiciary, including reinstatement of judges axed by the martial law, and redefinition of the role of the military in Pakistani politics. This is bound to happen, but the when and how is yet to be seen.Signs of the demise of perhaps the last martial law are everywhere. Defiance is growing, and is taking new and innovative forms. And, there is close networking among civil society groups and resistance is being aided by technology.The primitive, elite-led state faces a serious challenge from a very modern civil society. It would not be difficult to foretell the winner.

Questions to ask as a Pakistani..

Hard times for our country, still harder ahead. Existential questions need to be addressed more than ever now, and honestly, by all of us, if we are to ever dream of salvaging the dream called Pakistan. How much are we willing to stake for in this fight? More than ever, the country needs contribution from the privileged classes that have a duty to give back now, or else face extinction as a proud nation and the indifference of history. The concerted efforts of the students, lawyers and media is heartening, brings a heady rush to the numbed senses. Despite systematic efforts by the state and establishment to prevent the people to become a dynamic civil polity, the people have proven them wrong. The people of Pakistan are the wild card here, we have the power to make or break the situation and we must always remember that. However, carrying out street demonstrations is not enough, the movement has to sustain and become a force of its own. That should be the goal and the guiding light, and to get there, hard questions need to be asked, ground realities need to be addressed. Is it enough to vilify and blame a single person for this tragic episode in our troubled history? Should hopes be pinned on a single person or party to bring justice and good times? Can we evade the reality that the sovereignty of the country is compromised greatly by foreign policy imperatives? So much so that the General addresses his first press conference since imposition of martial law in English, and the leader of the biggest political party addresses foreign audiences more than the people of her own country? Should we also brush away the fact that Pakistani flag has been taken off in parts of Swat? Not to forget, the heinous Army Act that has been imposed is here to stay even after the so called emergency will be lifted, making the freedom of expression nothing more than a farce. The nexus of domestic and foreign policies has become so entangled that the ruling clique has become nothing more than a chessboard of generals and power drunk politicians. What can we do? What is to be done? Holding demonstrations and expressing our abhorrence to the power games that rob us of our basic right to live as a respectable citizen of the state is the first step. This we owe to the poor people of Pakistan, the ordinary soldier, the farmer, the sweeper, the labourer. The second step is to not get duped by the deceptive promises of politicians and civil-military establishment and be on guard. For that we need to support a free media and conscientious voices amongst us all, learn to go beyond the superficial, and strive to find ways to beat the players at their own game. We need to come up with ways to keep up the momentum of this historical movement that has woken us from our cynical apathy. And that brings one to the basic question of how far each of us is willing to go?

LUMS Hunger Strike Week commences..

Lahore, 12.11.2007: This is the beginning of the Hunger Strike Week at LUMS. As it is final exam week at the university, it is impossible for a significant number of students to hold a rally or a demonstration to protest the continuing injustices in Pakistan, caused by the harsh policies brought about by the imposition of Emergency rule in thecountry. The students continue to be outraged by the incarceration of judges, lawyers, human rights activists, student protesters andmembers of the intelligentsia, in addition to the callous treatment being meted out to any and every individual, whether it be an elderly man or woman, who even very peacefully demonstrates against these unconstitutional and unjust acts of the government.
Wishing to show support for their principled stance but constricted by the scheduling of exams at various times throughout the day, student protesters at LUMS have announced a hunger strike all week. For many, the hunger strike is less a test of physical and psychological endurance than a symbolic gesture, having historical associations in subcontinental history as a method of political resistance through non-violent means. A small number of students are to take out the time between exams everyday to sit in a designated area in front of the cafeteria, marked by placards proclaiming their cause. Today, a total of around twenty-five students religiously maintained their position on the designated patch of grass in the busy lane between the cafeteria and the academic block. They posed an interesting - and even rather poignant- sight, sitting cross-legged on the ground with their coursebooks and laptops on their laps, determinedly trying to study among the consistent chatter in an effort to fulfill both their academic and civil responsibilities. The sit-in/strike ended for the day at 4:30 with gifts of garlands for the student protesters on strike frombystanders, a tradition which the protestors were clearly reluctant toobserve but in the end, not very stoically endured for the sake of thecultural traditions of hunger strikes in the subcontinent.
Among all this, the small group of protesters did seem to make an impact upon the regular stream of spectators and passerbys in that it underlined the seriousness and importance of the issue of country's entire judicial structure being compromised and virtually shattered under the impact of the emergency laws. The students clearly seem to consider it vital enough to spend precious time from their study schedule to observe a collective hunger strike in protest, a fact which should prove interesting for many who considered the lasting power of students' surprising dedication to the cause as potentially weak.

This is in Urdu, but a must read. It tells the story of the Colombians and how their judiciary stood up to the mafia.

For Everyone..please read..

The past two days have been depressing, both here and around the country. The air is beset with despondency, frustration, uncertainty and doubt. With information sources in disarray, no one knows what to believe, who to trust, what to think. It was to be expected and I will not lie; my mind too has been overwhelmed with confusion. For that is exactly how the oppressors want us to think. They want us to sink ever deeper into cynicism, apathy and self-doubt. They want us to turn away while the country bleeds, to lie listless while the fire consumes the heart and soul of this abused nation.

It is in this frustration, in this dejection, that we must find our strength. The strength to stand up and reclaim this nation from those who have purged it of all that was whole and good. For, my friends, I fear we may not have another chance; this country may not have another chance.

For decades, generations have stood by as this nation was exploited, subverted, pillaged by its own leaders; Leaders who told us to sit quietly while they bled the very soil of this land. We yearned for justice, for peace, for development, for honesty and accountability, but received little. Over the years, many of us lost faith in our own identity – we were no longer ‘proud of being Pakistani’. Skepticism and cynicism became inherent Pakistani traits. Our culture, our traditions, we slowly lost touch with. Successive 14th August’s passed without a whimper; Pakistan, we felt, no longer belonged to any of us.

Today, at the most critical juncture that this country has seen in its turbulent history for decades, we have an opportunity – maybe our last – to change all of that. Today, we have the chance to salvage our country’s future, to save it from destruction, to save it from the very apathy that threatens to devour it whole.

Why are we protesting, people ask me? To usher in another corrupt politician? To open the doors for another dynastic arrangement that exploits whatever’s left of this tattered nation? What are we fighting for?

To them, I extend one simple answer; we are fighting for Pakistan.

We are fighting because soon, there might not be anything left to quarrel over. We are fighting for the country’s future, a future where people are socially and politically conscious, where injustice is not complacently tolerated, where the masses are empowered and equal. Where the most destitute denizens of society can seek the same justice as its rulers. Where corrupt politicians do not dare steal from the nations coffers. We are fighting for institutions that can ensure this, for institutions that prevent the abuse of despotic and political power, institutions that protect our rights. And unless that is ensured, none of Pakistan’s myriad of problems will be solved, however much our Messianic General wishes us to think so. And yes, make no mistake about it; we are fighting savage, unrestrained oppression.

Yes, the fight will be long and hard. Along the way, it will be beset with disappointment, with frustration and restlessness.

But, for once, I want being Pakistani to mean more for me than cheering a cricket match victory, or mindlessly waving a green flag on the 14th of August. I want to ‘be’ this country, to feel one with it, to be proud of it in all respects, to heal the wounds that decades of turmoil have wrought upon its crumbling visage. And, in these darkest of times, I pledge, as Allah is my witness, to do my utmost to make that happen.

And no, this fight does not end with the end of the emergency. This fight continues until we can truly claim to have made a difference. Until we have purged this country of all the anathemas that threaten its survival; from military rule, to corruption, to inequality, to intolerance, to terrorism, to socio-political apathy.

I am making a humble plea now, to anyone listening or reading, my colleagues at LUMS, students, teachers, parents, Pakistanis. Please join us. Please wake up and save this country. It is not the responsibility of one individual; all of us have a part to play. If we let this one opportunity slip us by, history and more importantly, God, may not ever absolve us. We must act with the faith that courses through our veins, with conviction in our beliefs and in the values that we are fighting for. And we must move quickly, for our nation cannot sustain much more. Collectively and Substantively, we must speak out and come out.

In Complete Unity.

May Allah bless us all.

E-mail from Dr. Parvez Hasan

Dr.Pervaiz Hasan, an eminent lawyer and member of the LUMS Management Committee was arrested at the Lahore High Court on the 5th of November, protesting against the imposition of emergency and subjugation of the judiciary. This is his account of his time in detainment:

They herded lawyers in the police, about 35 of us. We knew nothing about where we were being taken after our arrest at the Lahore High Court on 5 November 2007. Speculation mounted in discussions in the bus but it was soon overtaken by the rumour/news received on somemobile telephones with the lawyers that General Musharaf had been removed and placed under house arrest. The hatred for Musharaf seemed so intense that this appeared the best news of the day although with the reported take over by General Kiani, it was sadly a case of "from the fire into the frying pan".
The first thing when we arrived at the Sabzazar Police Station(further out of Lahore near Allama Iqbal Town) was that we were unlocked out of the police bus and searched. All mobile phones were confiscated. I do not use, have or carry a mobile phone and by this time the expectation, subtly fed to us, was that we would be taken from Sabzazar to jails in Bahawalpur, Sahiwal or Mianwali. I am a heart patient: I had a heart attack in 2004 and doctors at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore then operated me to place three stents in my heart blood vessels. I have been regimented since to taking several medicines, morning and evening. Some of these are important for the thinning of the blood to prevent strokes. When I saw the prospect of being held incommunicado without information to my family, I wanted desperately to reach out for my medicines.
Courtesy a colleague on the bus, I hurriedly used his mobile before getting out of the bus to be searched in the police station to inform my Secretary in the office about the Sabzazar Police Station minutes before the mobile was confiscated by the Police Station. Otherwise, no one could have found out where we were being held. The only redeeming thing for the whole day turned out to be that the Police Station allowed the medicines to be delivered to me in the cell when my son, Omar, rushed to bring these to Sabzazar.
The cell in Sabzazar was an unclean, filthy room with a toilet and tap in the middle with a 4 foot wall around it. The 35 of us were all jam-packed, once again, into this room which was actually meant for fewer people. Having been a political activist with theTehrik-i-Istiqlal and, later, with the Tehrik-e-Insaf as its first Secretary General, I well know and have been exposed to the conditions of our police stations and jails. In criticizing the conditions for the detainees, one is not asking for 5 star comfort but what I am suggesting is that 60 years after our independence, the conditions in our police stations and jails have not matched the worldwide developments towards the dignity of human beings increasingly recognized through international Magna Cartas such as the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and the International Covenants on Human Rights, 1966 and the human rights provisions in our own national Constitution. It is a measure of our national shame that even enemy prisoners of war (POWs) receive better treatment under the Geneva Conventions than do our detainees in our police stations and jails.
We slept on the hard dirty floor in our court dresses without access to any cover of blankets in the cool and mosquito-infested night. The space was so over-crowded that when I got up from a brief nap, I found a young lawyer using my legs as a pillow.
But the mood was optimistic and the spirits high. We soon went into telling jokes and reciting poetry and found a Master of Ceremonies who directed the order of our presentations. Much of the humour, mostly obscene was in respect of General Pervez Musharaf and if there were any (spy) bugs in the room, many of the 35 lawyers could easily be hauled up under anti-obscenity statutes!
The most eloquent and, for me, the most moving presentation was from a young lawyer who proudly declared that 5 November 2007 was the most important day of his life because he had decided, on this date, that he would never appear before a PCO Judge. He was equally proud to announce that, acting on this resolve, he had only that morning returned a (huge) fee of Rs. 4,000 to a client whose case he would no longer handle. This was the most humbling experience for me. That morning, I too had acted on the same resolve to return the professional fee of over Rs. one (1) crore paid to me by clients whose cases I would no longer argue because of the PCO Judges. But I felt that my gesture after 37 years of a busy professional life did not match the sacrifice of this young struggling lawyer. I wish all other lawyers see similar light on the start of their careers.
My bonding with the 35 colleagues at Sabzazar came to an end early on 6 November 2007 when because of the dedicated and worried efforts ofmy architect son, Omar, and nephew, Jawad, I was released from Sabzazar Police Station on grounds of age (66) and a medical conditionduly certified by the country's leading cardiologist, Dr. Shaharyar Sheikh. I should also acknowledge the humane response to my medical problems by the efficient SHO of the Sabzazar Police Station, QamarAbbas, and his deputy, Atif.