Sunday, March 15, 2009

COMMENT: Long march in Lahore ...

For the past weel or so, my patents have been glued to the TV screen watching GeoTV coverage of the Pakistani opposition's "long march". GeoTV is one of Pakistan's more popular cable TV news channels. Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest province. Lahore is also Pakistan's cultural capital, home to a large number of monuments of great historical, cultural and spiritual significance to both Muslims and Sikhs.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is now Pakistan's democratically elected president. However, in recent times, Zardari has been accused of behaving more like a dictator.

But the long march isn't just in Lahore, and it doesn't just consist of supporters of Pakistan's opposition leader (and also former Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif. Reporting from my birthplace of Karachi, Mustafa Qadri follows the trail of lawyers from Karachi who have called for the reinstatement of the Chief Justice and other judges removed from their posts by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

The Zardari government is using any means to dissuade protestors, even warning of possible terrorist attacks. Qadri reports ...

Adviser to the Prime Minister for Interior Affairs, Rehman Malik, a man who despite his title is effectively the main lieutenant of President Zardari, tried to dissuade would-be protesters by warning of "terrorists and enemies of the country" staging attacks during the march.

There were, thankfully, no attacks by militants or others. And although police and soldiers lining the route of the procession routinely updated their superiors on the procession's movement through the city, they did not arrest anyone immediately. That task
came soon after, however, when the protesters converged at the Mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founding father. Others were arrested as they reached a highway tollway leaving the city on their long journey to the capital — far away from the view of ordinary citizens in Karachi, Pakistan's most densely populated city.

But for my own father, the real fascination is watching the streets where he grew up being transformed into a scene of often violent protest. The lawyers are present, as are the supporters of Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who until recently served as Chief Minister of the Punjab province.

Protestors are hoping to head for Islamabad, though the city has been closed off by troops at all major entrances. The various groups of protestors hope to reach Islamabad by Monday and hold a sit-in inside the Parliament building.

There are already rumours flying around that Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is involved in a plot to murder Nawaz Sharif. Such rumours are not uncommon in South Asia, a part of the world where political conspiracy theories aren't exactly in short supply.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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