Pakistan: Day two of underground life

November 7, 2007

Today is my second day in underground life. On November 3, when General Musharaf declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution, I was in Toba Tek Singh, a city around four hours from Lahore. This was to attend a meeting to prepare for the Labour Party Pakistan's fourth national conference. The conference is scheduled to be held on November 9-11 in the city. Posters welcoming the delegates were printed and an invitation card to supporters for the open session of the conference was ready as well.

The meeting was nearly ending when I heard the news that emergency had been declared. I decided immediately to travel to Lahore. I was in contact with other party comrades on the telephone and every one advised me not to go to my home. In the back of my mind were my three arrests in the last three months, in which I spent 23 days in jails and police stations. The Labour Party Pakistan has become a target for the military regime because of its active participation in the advocate [lawyers'] movement. Several comrades had been arrested for their part in the movement.

As I arrived in Lahore, I heard that police had raided my house and were looking for me. My partner Shahnaz Iqbal told them that I was not home and would not be at home because I know that I will be arrested. It was around 11.30pm when police came to my home. It was good decision not to go home.

I was given a few sim cards for my mobile phone, advised not to use my regular mobile number in any case. "Use a new number to contact comrades every day to avoid been traced", was the advice. The telecommunication system is so advanced that when I use my regular mobile phone, they would know where I am and immediately arrest me.

All the private television channels are off the air. Only the official television was broadcasting the official propaganda. Even the BBC and CNN were off the air. We were in the dark and did not know what was coming. The government is using its dictatorial measures to silence any opposition voice being heard by people of Pakistan. It was an unprecedented act of censorship.

After midnight, Musharaf came on the official television to explain the reasons why he imposed the emergency, with the usual demagogy of "national interest" and "Pakistan first". He was trying to tell us that he has removed the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan because the judge's decisions have promoted terrorism and suicide attacks. This was all nonsense. Musharaf imposed emergency rule to prolong his period in power and avoid a Supreme Court decision that might go against him. It was a dictatorial act by a dictator who has tried to convince the world that he is not a dictator: that, he is in a transition period from dictatorship to democracy.

I was awake till 3am trying to listen some international news from the radio. Next day was Sunday and I went out to buy the newspapers. The area I was staying in was one in which I had never been before. No one knew who I was. However, the newspapers were not yet available, even at 8am. I went back. I turned on my regular mobile telephone, forgetting that I am underground. There was an immediate call from a friend and I replied to him. This was a mistake.

I was told by my friend to change my hiding place immediately, which I did. This was my second hiding place during the last 12 hours. Here I read all the newspapers. Then I went to a park three kilometres away and spoke to some party comrades from my new telephone numbers and discussed the political situation. I called my family as well to check their morale. It was as high as ever. My daughter and son asked me not to come home and that they were OK.

A meeting by Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights was called at the office of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Pakistan to discuss and chart out the strategy to oppose the dictatorial measure. The chairperson of the HRC, Asthma Jahanghir, had already been detained at her house. Her office called me to tell the comrades to come for the meeting. I told them I would not be there and if the police see me they will immediately arrest me.

Khalid Malik, director the Labour Education Foundation, and Azra Shad, chairperson of the Women Workers Help Line, were among those who arrived in time for this meeting. So were around 70 others. Comrade Maqsood Mojahid, Khaliq Shah and Bushra Khaliq were a little late for the meeting. As they arrived, they saw police everywhere around the HRC office. They stopped and phoned the people inside to tell them to be ready for arrests. This may be the only time when being late has paid off. This laziness of three comrades saved them being arrested.

Police went inside and broke down the doors. They asked the women to leave and the men to stay to be arrested. The women refused. They included Hina Jilani, Rubina Sahgal, Neelum Hussain, Syeda Deep and Azra Shad. They were all bundled off to the nearest police station. This incident showed the intensity of the police and the military regime to brutally silence any opposition voice. It was first time since the establishment of Human Rights Commission office in 1986 that police had entered the building. It was considered to be a safe place and that police would not dare to enter.

I heard within a few minutes, from Bushra, secretary the Women Workers Help Line, of the arrests. She told me to be more careful.

In the evening, I made another mistake on my regular telephone. Bad habits die hard. So there was a call, I spoke to a journalist from a private TV channel and spoke against the arrests. I immediately realised the mistake and left that place to stay in another one for the evening. As I arrived at the new place, around 11.30pm, I received a call that police had entered my home and checked for me everywhere. My partner told me the next morning that police came with some intelligence officers in plainclothes. They ordered her to open the door otherwise they would break in. When the police entered my home, only my daughter (13), son (7) and my partner Shahnaz were at home. The police opened every door, cupboard, checked the bathroom, and went to the rooftop. They were desperate to arrest me.

I was upset after hearing the news but did not call home for security reasons. It was hard but I had to be patient, I was told by my friends.

Today is Monday, November 5. We had decided to bring the LPP's weekly paper Workers Struggle on time and today was the last day of the paper's production. It was decided that we would not work at the usual office of the paper; as police might come there. So we decided to bring the equipment, computer and printer to a new place. I told the comrades I would come and write the main article for the paper. There were five of us working on the paper. I wrote the article and then was on new telephone line to hear about the wholesale arrests of the advocates [lawyers] all over the country. More than 700 have been arrested. Police entered the Lahore High Court building for the first time in history and arrested advocates after they were severely beaten. A new history of police atrocities under a military dictatorship in Pakistan is being written.

Khalid Malik and Azra Shad were charged and sent to the same jail, Kot Lakhpat, where I had spent around 10 days in June this year. Luckily, the weather is not hot.

We have decided to fight back against the military regime and to organise the movement. It was agreed that I will not come out in the open but will be active in organising the movement until my arrest on the job. It was agreed that we will not accept the dictatorial measures and will organise the demonstrations and will ask comrades be ready for more arrests.

I am sitting in an internet café at 6pm to write this and sent it from there. I had to travel over 20 kilometres to reach my place for this evening.

[Farooq Tariq is the general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan.]

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