Friday, March 16, 2007

Pakistani Unrest Gathers Pace

More this morning on the unrest in Pakistan which began with a "revolt of the lawyers" when military dictator General Musharaff had his own Chief Jutice placed under temporary house arrest in a blatant attempt to replace someone he believes will not support the constitutional sidestep that will allow Musharaff five more years of power.

Reports show that the unrest, which has been met with an aggresive response by police, is spreading and broadening as Pakistanis protest over Musharaff's rule in general rather than just the Chief Justice's removal from office.

Violent clashes erupted in the Pakistani capital Islamabad Friday as riot police fought off protestors near the Supreme Court where the country's suspended top judge was facing allegations of misuse of authority.

Riot units fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets at crowds that tried to pass barbed wire cordons around the court building. Both sides hurled stones and police periodically launched baton charges. There was no information about any injuries.

There were also scenes of unrest in other cities, including Lahore, where dozens were injured during a march by lawyers on Tuesday.

..."People have been arrested in every single town and city in Pakistan, the arrests started yesterday, and day by day this will increase," predicted Asfandyar Wali Khan of the Awami National Party, which is based in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

"This is an attempt by an army general to concentrate power in the hands of an individual and to do away with all institutions," he added.

More than 50 people were arrested in Islamabad and its twin city Rawalpindi in night raids, and 40 lawyers were taken into custody in Lahore but later released.

Communications were also widely disrupted for a more than an hour as the protest got underway, with internet and mobile phone networks failing.
Mushraff has also attempted to shut down media coverage of protests:
Police in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Friday used tear gas to clear the offices of the private Geo news channel as it broadcast live footage of clashes with protesters. Windows were smashed in the lobby as officers tried to interrupt transmission of violent scenes near the Supreme Court, where suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stood before a panel of judges over allegations of misuse of office.

During a visit to the Geo building, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani later condemned the police actions and said the channel should not be prevented from covering the events.

Cameramen on the roof of the television station had a direct view of running battles between police armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and sticks against rock-throwing youths.

The distubances escalated when protesters tried to reach the court while chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.
The British media, with a far larger ex-pat Pakistani community in the UK, has done much of the running on this story - so far it really isn't on the American radar in a big way. The UK's Financial Times today covers the story with a reasonable overview of what's going on and its possible fallout, quoting one Pakistani lawyer as saying “It’s an emerging situation, which can take down anyone, including Musharraf.” It also points out that the absence of secular democratic leaders (the strongest two secular parties are basically in exile) is handing the field of protest against Musharaff and the military's dictatorship to Islamist groups by default.
Religious radicalism is spreading so rapidly that there is little time left to save Pakistan's moderate political parties and institutions such as the Supreme Court that are central to the functioning of any future democracy. "It's hard to know how long the Americans will keep on pretending that Musharraf is their man," says a European diplomat. "If protests against Musharraf intensify, our American friends may have to look for other men on the ground."
It's a situation where the Bush administration is willingly going against its supposed belief in democratic freedom, a hypocrisy that hasn't escaped some observers.

All of which leaves the folks at Crooked Timber wondering why they "haven't seen much coverage in either US newspapers or the blogosphere of the developing crisis in Pakistan." Uh, over here guys?

And while you're wondering what might happen next, remember that Musharaff controls the military, that the military lives by it's animosity towards India and that one of the favorite distractions dictators use for a discontented populace is a war against a neighbour. The dangers here are greater than just the possibility of a nuclear-armed Islamist state where the intelligence agency has direct control of several terrorist groups - although that's danger enough.

Update Swaraaj Chauhan over at The Moderate Voice has more, including this jaw-dropping bit of reality denial from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:
“It is essential for any developing democracy to adhere to the rule of law and conduct any investigations … in a clear, above-board, transparent manner that strictly accords with Pakistan’s laws,”
Musharaff is a military dictator you maroon! A "developing democracy" is what Pakistan used to have.