Former Pakistani Prime minister Benazir Bhutto arrived in the capital city of Islamabad on Tuesday and called her supporters to continue protesting despite President Musharraf’s governments threats to crush the demonstrations. Bhutto has called on supporters to defy the imposition of emergency rule “at all cost.”
Despite threats of a police crackdown Benazir Bhutto vowed to hold a rally Friday if Musharraf does not restore the constitution and announce the date of the elections due to be held in January. At a News conference Bhutto was quoted as saying “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to come forward, we are under attack. God willing there will be a flood of people, if I am arrested people should continue the struggle”.
The police chief in Rosalinda , the staging point for the rally, says that Bhutto’s party has been told they can not hold the rally due to a ban on public gatherings. Chief Saud Aziz said “If they try to flout the ban, the law would take its course”.
With hundreds, possible as many as 2500-3500 already in jail and police quick to use there batons and tear gas against protesters there is little reason to doubt the chief’s threats. Many of those arrested are lawyers, human rights activists, and moderates. According to CBC many of those who are arrested are being denied access to legal council. Some have described the emergency rule as being more like martial law.
The president of the Pakistan Muslim League Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said he is sure the emergency rule will end in two to three weeks and his party is willing to meet with Bhutto and her aids to discuss ways to “to help improve the political climate and ensure transition to full democracy.” Bhutto has chosen to hold talks with opposition groups to discuss ways to revive the constitution and get Musharraf to step down as army chief, saying she has no plans to meet with the president.
National television stations are being blocked by the government , this started with the cable broadcasters who were taken off the air on Saturday after they began to report that President Musharraf would be declaring an emergency . Many independent stations have turned to Internet and satellite broadcasting to continue reporting on the situation in Pakistan. Imran Aslam, president of GEO television in Pakistan said, “Technology has progressed beyond the governments imagination and we believe this is the best time to put new media into operation.”
Although President Bush has threatened to cut aid to Musharraf’s government if he does not restore the constitution these threats have been seen as largely symbolic since they would not affect military aid. Today U.S. National Security Council spokesman, Gordan Johndroe
said , “This is not a never ending process, they need to release the people they have arrested, they need to stop beating people in the streets, they need to restore press freedom and they need to get back on the path to democracy soon--now”
A number of countries including Canada have condemned president Musharraf’s actions however only the Netherlands has frozen developmental aid to Pakistan. It remains to be seen what effect if any, international pressure and calls from two of Pakistan’s former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who is living in exile in Saudi Arabia, for protesters to take to the streets will have on Musharraf’s hold on power or the transformation to democracy.