Police in Pakistan’s Lahore city stormed a convention of lawyers on Saturday and arrested several of them, according to latest reports.Swaraaj notes that Musharaff has backed off some on his crackdown, suspending 14 of the policement who ransacked one TV station, lifting restrictions on the chief justice's movemnt and ordering a "judicial enquiry". But he is sceptical, describing these moves as typical Musharaff bluff and bluster and asking "is he fooling the world or himself?"
“Lawyers attending the meet were brutally beaten up and lawyers in the High Court struck back with stones. Lawyers in business suits poured out of the meeting and hurled stones at police who threw them back. Police chasing stone-throwers ransacked nearby offices, witnesses said.
“The High Court has now been sealed. The violent standoff began after President Pervez Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry of Pakistan’s Supreme Court on March 9.”
There is yet another crisis as no lawyer is willing to represent Pakistan government in judge’s case. The government is unable to find a lawyer of any standing to represent it before the supreme judicial council in the reference against the chief justice, says DNA.
“Bar councils and bar associations throughout the country are quick to suspend the memberships of lawyers perceived to be associated with the government in this crisis. All this, in support of a chief justice who was no one’s favourite, in fact, against whom lawyers had grievances regarding his behaviour in court.
“Furious, and unanimous in their condemnation of the attempt to sack the chief justice, lawyers see this as a reprehensible step by a general-sitting-as-president to rob the judiciary of what is left of its independence.
Update If you're keeping up with the story of Pakistan's breakdown, there's a must-read guest op-ed over at the BBC by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. He sets out the key issues, all of which are making Musharaff increasiingly isolated at home and on the international stage.
The first is the military's failure to assert the government's writ over large areas of the country and its refusal to tackle Islamic extremists head-on.There are a ton of comments, mostly from Pakistanis and both pro and con Rashid's opinions, after the main op-ed too. Well worth a read.
The second development is the assertion of some extremists that they no longer recognise the legitimacy of the state and will only do so when an Islamic revolution takes place.
Judges, soldiers, policemen, lawyers and ordinary women and children were the victims of a dozen suicide bombings by extremists in February. The authorities have made few arrests.
In Islamabad, foreign diplomats were shocked when the government gave in to some 3,000 Kalashnikov-wielding militant women, who refused to evacuate a religious school that had been set for demolition because it had been built illegally.
...Law and order is breaking down in the major cities. Up to 200 crimes and robberies are being committed every a day in major cities - in Karachi the figures are double that. Much of the prevalent crime is committed by unemployed youth, who form gangs to steal cars, motor bikes and mobile phones.
...On the international front, Gen Musharraf's credibility is at stake as his commitment to deal with terrorism is being questioned by the US and leading Nato countries.
...Pakistan is now the most fenced in nation in the world. Iran is now following India's example and erecting a fence on its border with Pakistan, while Islamabad wants to erect a fence on its border with Afghanistan.
All these problems come ahead of polls in which Gen Musharraf wants to be re-elected for another five years by the current parliament, while continuing to remain army chief.
Expectations of a free and fair elections are lowered daily as Gen Musharraf insists in public statements that people vote for his nominees, while newspapers report that the ubiquitous intelligence services are already interviewing prospective parliamentary candidates to ascertain their loyalty to the president.[Emphasis mine -C]
That "intelligence service" mentioned is the notorious ISI, who have been accused by NATO intelligence of being the guiding light behind the Taliban. I guess that answers the Bush question. "Which is worse, that the leaders do know or that they don't?" The ISI can hardly have gone rogue if it is making sure the next parliament will be packed with yes-men for Musharaff.
When you put all those factors in line like that, you can see why Rashid ends his piece with "For a country armed with nuclear weapons, ordinary people are getting scared of the future." Maybe we should be too. I'm still amazed at the short shrift this is getting in the US.