By Farooq Tariq
On The Foot Steps of Advocates, Till The End of Dictatorship
From nowhere to everywhere - The mass movement in Pakistan
On 8th March 2007, no-one in Pakistan would have thought of a
mass movement erupting in the near future with the potential to
overthrow General Musharrafs regime. A day later on 9th
March, he suspended the chief justice of the Supreme Court of
Pakistan. He had the illusion that nothing would happen and business
as usual would go on. He had done it in the past successfully.
But it was different this time. Immediately after the suspension,
the 80,000 strong advocates community started agitation
against the decision.
The peak of this agitation was on 14th May 2007. For the first
time since General Musharraf took over the power in October 1999,
whole of Pakistan shut down. It was the first political strike
in seven years. It was also the first political action that was
not initiated by the religious fundamentalist forces.
On 14 May, Pakistan was united against military dictatorship
and gangsters of MQM, (United National Movement) a linguistic
party sharing power along with General Musharraf. From Karachi
to Peshawar, all the shops were closed and there was very thin
traffic on the streets. In Lahore, the largest ever demonstration
since 9th March took place from Lahore High Court to Governor
House on the main Mall Road. Over 15,000 participated.
The strike was a solid one and even traders associated with the
military regime went on strike. A great anger was expressed against
the killing of over 40 political activists who went to the reception
of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Choudry on 12 May in Karachi.
Over 200 were injured by the direct fire from the thugs of MQM,
who had announced that they would not tolerate the reception in
Karachi is ours and we would not like the political parties
to politicize the issue of chief justice declared Farooq
Sattar, the parliamentary head of MQM a day earlier. Karachi is
in the control of this neofascist organization that bases itself
on the immigrants of 1947 who speak Urdu. They control the local
bodies and almost all the provincial and national seats from the
largest city of Pakistan.
The 12 May saw some of the worst incidents of direct killings
of innocent citizens and political activists from different opposition
parties in Karachi. All the roads linked to Shahrai Faisal, the
main road to airport were blocked by massive containers and trucks.
The purpose was to stop people coming to the main road.
Although there was hundreds of Labour Party Pakistan activists
present in different routes to the airport, fortunately none of
them were injured or killed. They were bringing the injured ones
to hospitals. Several busloads of LPP activists were snatched
by the gangsters of MQM who dragged the activists inside with
their guns at their heads.
I am at Awami Markaz hiding behind a pillar of the bridge.
Firing is going on from different sides. Next to me are lying
five people, covered with blood. They have been hit by bullets.
There is no ambulance to take them to hospital. I am crying all
the time. I can not help the injured one, and I may be hit as
well Azra Perveen, a Labour Party Pakistan activist told
me on telephone on 12th May at 2pm. We tried to send the media
and some ambulances, but no-one was ready to go that place. It
was only after two hours that the injured were rushed to hospital.
Sadly, three of them died later. Azra has been in a state of
shock for the last three days. She has seen the blood everywhere.
A private TV channel, Aaj, tried to show live the firing by the
gangsters. So the semi-fascist groups when there and fired at
the TV channel building for over six hours.
The local police and rangers had given a free hand to deal
with the opposition. The chief justice was blocked at the Karachi
airport alongside with 25 advocates. They were held for nine hours
at the airport. The state authorities wanted him to go by helicopter
to Sind High Court building to address the Sind High Court Bar
Association. This was to avoid the reception of the people outside
on the main roads. He refused to go by helicopter.
While they stopped the chief justice at the airport, the private
army of the MQM opened fire on all those who came in processions
to receive and welcome him. Thus a firing drama lasted for over
14 hours, resulting in the deaths of over 40 by midnight.
After the incidents of 12th May, the MQM is neither united nor
national. They are many resigning from MQM in Punjab, and Karachi
is not united anymore for MQM after nearly two decades.
The same night on 12th May, the conservative Muslim League Q
had planned a mass rally in Islamabad in support of
the sacking of chief justice. The Muslim League is in power with
General Musharraf. This was a rally planned weeks earlier to counter
the growing sympathy for the chief justice and a growing demand
for an end of the military regime.
All state employees were asked to attend the rally. All sanitary
workers were forced to attend. The Muslim League had promised
to give two to five hundred Rupees ($3.50 to $8.50) to everyone
who attended this historic rally, along with free
mineral water and food. They have been regular complaints printed
for the last two days in the national media about ignoring promises
of such a kind. Despite all the efforts, not more than 20,000
were in the rally. It was not a rally but a festival opportunity
for many to see Islamabad.
Addressing this rally General Musharraf praised the MQM by saying
that the people of Karachi has come out today. Yes, they came
out to be hit by bullets of the supporters of General Musharraf.
It all went against the regime. Their rally in Islamabad was
a failure. Their strategy to stop the reception of chief justice
resulted in bloodshed. They lost their support among the middle
class, the traditional support for the military regime and MQM.
The representatives of over 480 markets of Lahore announced, and
acted upon, the call for a shut-down strike on 12th May. It was
mainly announced by former supporters of the Musharraff regime.
The movement of the advocates had been started by the bar associations
across Pakistan after 9th March 2007. The advocates historically
have been in the forefront of every democratic struggle in Pakistan.
They were the main force behind the movement against General Auyb
Khans dictatorship in the sixties: they were also responsible
for keeping the movement alive during General Zias dictatorship
in the eighties. Some of them have been cooperating with the military
regime of general Musharraff. Some of them had illusions of the
nature of the regime. They thought it might be a progressive military
regime. But all that is gone with the wind.
The movement has developed from nowhere to everywhere. It is
everywhere. People are talking about it. They are very angry about
the bloodshed. They have all seen it on the TV by the live coverage
of competing private TV channels. Mostly they have mobile phones
that have helped them to get immediate information.
There have been numerous hunger strike camps, protest camps,
and small and big demonstrations mainly by the advocates during
the first sixty days of the movement. The movement was built up
slowly but steadily. The consistency in the protests by the advocates
convinced many ordinary Pakistanis to give attention to the movement.
The movement to end the military regime in Pakistan is facing
its second phase of repression. The first phase of repression
was to suppress the advocates in the first week of the movement
just after 9th March. Many advocates were beaten up by police
and many were arrested. That did not work.
Then regime strategy was to exhaust the movement by opening up.
They allowed the demonstrations to take place freely. That brought
more people in the movement including the activists of political
parties mainly Muslim League (Nawaz), Peoples Party, parties associated
with Awami jamhoori Tehreek, the left alliance including Labour
Party Pakistan, Awami National Party, National Party, Baluchistan
National Party, MMA, the religious alliance and so on.
The second phase of repression has started from 4th May. This
time it is mainly against the political activists. I was also
detained for three days by Lahore police from 4th May to 7th May.
This was to prevent political activists arranging the reception
of chief justice while he was due in Lahore on 5th May to address
the Lahore High Court Bar Association. He reached Lahore from
Islamabad in 25 hours instead of normal five hours. This was due
to the massive turnout on the main GT road to welcome the chief
Labour Party Pakistan saw the potential of the movement just
after 9th March. It became part of the movement from the very
beginning. Its poster on the footsteps of the advocates
till the end of dictatorship was the hit poster among the
advocates. It has printed leaflets in thousands to distribute
among the communities appealing to them to join the movement.
It has organized public meetings and rallies to make people part
of the movement.
Who is this chief justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan who has
initiated the movement? The chief justice Iftikhar Choudry was
no exception to the other judges who helped to sustain this regime.
But in his two years of office, he took many sue motto
notices regarding ordinary Pakistanis who were subject to human
rights violations. He particularly helped women victims of rape,
and conservative reactionary customary practices, that make women
half of man.
He also took notices of the irregularities of the privatization
process of Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi. He in fact stopped
the privatization of this massive industrial unit of Pakistan.
On the other hand, he has also given decisions against trade union
rights and so on and he has banned some strikes of the public
So he was not a hero worthy of the ordinary people of Pakistan,
but someone who helps sometimes. He earned respect when he refused
to resign on 9th March, when he was called to the Army House by
General Musharraf in the presence of five military generals. The
military generals immediately removed him from the post and put
him under house arrest. This resulted in an absolute anger among
the advocates who termed this act as an attack on the judiciary.
The movement is gaining momentum among the masses day by day.
This is because of the implementation of neoliberal agenda at
a faster speed. The privatization, the deregulation, the so-called
free market policies meant an upsurge of prices of every day things
at a level never seen before. People were fed up of the regime
but had no trust in the main political parties. So they were angry,
but not part of the movement.
The religious fundamentalist MMA, who had street power, used
this to gain more and more concessions from the regime including
power in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and power sharing
in another province, Balushistan. But they had come out to save
the regime whenever it was in trouble.
Now the religious fundamentalists are trailing behind the advocates
movement, in the hope of hijacking the movement. They have lent
their support to the advocates but they are not trustworthy. They
can go along with the military regime any time.
Neither is the Pakistan People Party trustworthy. Benazir Bhutto
admitted last month that it is in contact with the military regime
and is ready to share power with General Musharraf as president.
This sparked a great anger among the advocates who are mainly
led by supporters of PPP. But the deal with the PPP melts away
in the heat of the movement. Benazir does not say anymore that
she is willing to share power with General Musharraf.
The movement of the advocates is mainly led by a young generation.
It is their first experience and they are up to the mark. They
do not act upon the advice of their seniors to go slow. That is
the strength of the movement.
How and when Mushraf will step down, who will take over, will
it be another general to hold general elections or a transitional
government of some alliances, these are some of the question discussed
in the movement. One thing is absolute sure that Musharraf is
weaker to an extent never seen before. He can not last long as
he had planned. Many have started counting the days. He is a General
on his last leg.