Pakistan: Diary of underground life – Week 2

November 18, 2007

Day seven passed without my arrest despite several attempts by the police. During the last three days, we were able to hold a meeting of the leading members of Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), gave interviews to private television channels and to a private team working for CNN. We were able to fax daily news to most of the newspapers in Pakistan.

[See and for previous instalments of Farooq Tariq's diary of life in the underground in Pakistan. Farooq Tariq is the general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan.]

Day 7: Not arrested yet but facing dangerous situation

By Farooq Tariq

Day seven passed without my arrest despite several attempts by the police. During the last three days, we were able to hold a meeting of the leading members of Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), gave interviews to private television channels and to a private team working for CNN. We were able to fax daily news to most of the newspapers in Pakistan.

Comrade Rabia Shahzadi advocate from LPP was on front pages of many papers after she threw stones on police who was tear gassing the Lahore High Court premises on Monday 5th November. A show of retaliation among the young advocates inspired many

Unfortunately, Labour Party Pakistan chairperson Nisar Shah was arrested in Islamabad on 7th November along some party activists after he led a demonstration of lawyers despite all the police threats. Nisar Shah is an advocate of High Court. He had practices for 10 years in Karachi. After the devastating earthquake in October 2005, he moved for two years to Kashmir. He originally comes from Kashmir and his village was also hard hit by the earthquake including loss of lives of his close relatives. He was asked by the Labour Relief Campaign to move back to Kashmir to look after the work of relief and reconstruction. He helped successfully build 100 homes within three months of the earthquake, the first one to be completed with the help of Action Aid International and Shirkat Ghah, a radical women's NGO in Pakistan. He is in the process of building the first Kashmir Labour Centre at Paniola, where a good piece of land is donated by locals for the construction of the first ever to be constructed labour centre in Kashmir.

He was recently asked by the LPP to be in Rawalpindi and Islamabad to help build the social and political movement. He had started working as advocate [lawyer] in Islamabad to be closer to the advocates in movement. Here he was arrested after few days of public rebellion.

During the last three days of my underground life from November 7 to 10 today until this morning, I was able to stay three nights at a friend's house with utmost security measures. I was not online from the house and did not made a single telephone contact from any number or mobile from the house. I was walking around a kilometre to make telephone contacts and to open the email for few minutes. I would on my blackberry and download all the emails at this place within minutes and then be off the air.

Immediately after the first encounter on the police on November 6, when I was just saved, I changed my name on the telephone line. I would call only very close comrades and friends from different mobiles within these days. This has helped to secure me for the time being.

On November 8, while I was walking back to my place having covered my head with a cap and to some extent my face by growing a beard, suddenly a police van stopped next to me and it was red traffic signal. The police officer looked at my face with a full glimpse for few seconds. I thought he is trying to recognize my face that he might have seen somewhere. I was afraid that he would now come out. I had planned to run in case he came out. In the meantime my face was just blank and I did not give him any impression of being afraid, or that I know him. The drama was over in 20 seconds and I walked normally as if nothing had happened. As he moved away, I changed the route immediately and started running in the next street.

The area I was staying was full of police patrols all the time for many reasons. But it was only two times that I will came out of my place and walked to different internet cafes. Although, my friend's house had all the modern multimedia facilities, we had agreed that I would not be online from the house.

We had also chalked out an escape plan in case of a police raid. He has told me several ways to leave the house from back doors. But I suggested that if police came from the back and sides as well, I will court arrest without resistance. I must tell you that I carry no bag, no clothes, wherever I go, I borrow clothes for the night from my friends and, in the meantime, I get my clothes washed to wear again next morning.

My friend knew that in many normal cases, whenever police come to a house and do not find the person, they want to arrest any adult in the house apart from the women. My friend still took the risk and did not for a single moment try to make me aware that he is doing something extraordinary in my case.

The good news was that within three days was the changing attitude of Benazir Bhutto about the present military regime. She has tried in exile to deal for a power-sharing formula with military regime. But while in Pakistan, there was a suicide attack on her rally leaving over 200 dead. There was a massive negative campaign by the chief minister of Punjab against Benazir Bhutto during the time. Then Musharaf announced the emergency on November 3, without her consent apparently. Most of the arrested advocates were from her party [People's Party of Pakistan]. It was all too much. While in the first three days, [few] arrests were made of any PPP activists, it all changed with Benazir coming out openly against the military regime's emergency.

Her changing attitude was welcomed by the LPP in press releases and I announced in the media that the LPP would participate with the long march planned for November 13 by the PPP from Lahore to Islamabad. Although we had severe criticisms of her polices during the last months, because of soft corner about the regime, but we did go for the so-called conspiracy theories about Benazir and Musharaf being friends but hypocritically opposing each other to restore the respect of Benazir as a popular leader and the one who fought for democracy in every case.

Benazir's oppositional statements against the regime have meant arrests of hundreds of PPP activists and their houses raided all over. It meant Musharaf losing friends and the opposition is growing.

On November 9, when we would have been holding our fourth national conference, seven of us travelled hours to meet each other for a meeting at a safe place to chart out our future strategies. We faxed press releases, invited a team of television reporters working for several channels including CNN to interview us and film how we are working in underground. They had made a contact with a friend to make a film of the activists working in the underground. They filmed our deserted but functioning office in the centre of Lahore and they came to us. We have to take extraordinary safety measures to bring them safely to the place we were working. After the filming of our activities and a chat with us and not [filming] the area or the house, we decided to leave the place immediately to avoid any unpleasant incident. But these two were our trusted friends for long time.

Earlier on in the day, I went to my home for 15 minutes after my partner Shahnaz told me that my son Abdullah was missing me very much. This was done after making sure that no one from the police in uniform or in plainclothes were around the place. I was here after seven days even I was in the same city Lahore. They were all happy and in absolute high spirits. No complaints and no hard talk. My son (7) asked me to stay home but when I explained what would happen, he still did not agree and told me that I will speak to you. But my daughter Mashal told me it will be ok and you can leave. In all seven days, I spoke once a day with my partner on telephone briefly. I changed my clothes and left happily.

I went to a hairdresser on November 8 after the chance meeting with a police officer. Although I have not much hair anyhow but now it is totally different. It did not make much difference to my looks but I had to do something, maybe to satisfy myself alone.

There was some pleasant moments on November 8 afternoon when BBC and CNN were back on the air in Pakistan for the time being. I saw Lucy Dousset of BBC broadcasting live from Islamabad. She only comes to a country with a grave situation and her arrival is an indication of the seriousness of the situation. I was happy to see the LPP chairperson chanting slogans in Islamabad before his arrest. They tried to interview Asma Jahanghir at her place where she is detained but only could speak for a few moments before they were whisked away by police. I got a message from Asma yesterday that I be in underground in any case and organize the movement.

Happy to see today's papers with LPP news items welcoming the long march of the PPP, condemning all the arrests, demanding an immediate release and solidarity with the striking media people. The LPP news printed in daily Waqat today is an appeal to all the trade unions, working class and peasantry to join the advocate's movement. It is the first such appeal appearing the main news media since the emergency was imposed. We have to rely on the print media for promoting our ideas rather than on the electronic media, which is off the air.

I also contacted some of the main trade union leaders to be involved in the campaign. Maybe some positive responses will come. Some of the trade union leaders in Karachi have already been arrested. Trade unions, left parties and radical social movements in Karachi on November 7 have condemned the imposition of the emergency and decided to participate in the movement.

On November 9, our left alliance Awami Jamhoori Thereek meeting in Lahore could not agree on a day of action but agreed to mobilize the masses. One of our leading comrades attended the meeting and put forward an idea for a day of united action across Pakistan. Two of the main leaders and members of the central committee of AJT, Yousaf Masti Khan (National Workers Party) and Nisar Shah (LPP) are already in jail. Police are raiding the houses of many AJT leaders. Bilal Minto, son of Abid Hassan Minto, the president of the National Workers Party and convener of AJT, spent three days in jail before he was released with 70 other social activists. He is teacher at the elite Lahore University of Management and Sciences (LUMS). The arrest of the three radical teachers alongside with him sparked a movement of students at the university.

According to one press report, over 5000 have been arrested so far in the movement. There are not enough places in the jails to accommodate all the political prisoners. Temporary camps have been set up in different jails. Many private houses have been declared as sub-jails to put the prisoners. The prisoners are not allowed visits by their relatives. No private food is allowed for these prisoners. While I had been a recent guest at different jails during the last three months, I could imagine very well the plight of these arrested ones. Our hearts are with them. Sacrifices for democracy and socialism will not go in vain. We will get rid of the military dictatorship soon; I am convinced by the recent developments. How? We do not know but we will do it through our mass movement and sacrifices.


Day 10: More raids on Labour Party Pakistan activists, left-wing leaders still in jail

By Farooq Tariq

Lahore police were very busy raiding the homes of several LPP activists during the last three days. The home of Afzal Soaraya, secretary Labour Party Punjab, has been raided several times during the last three days. The Lahore home of Maqsood Mujahid, member the LPP National Committee, has also been the target of regular visits by the local police. They have also stopped the vehicle of Farooq Tariq several times while dropping his children to school.

Nisar Shah, chairperson Labour Party Pakistan is been charged under the Anti-Terrorist Act and several others charges. He is at present in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi along with other political prisoners.

Yousaf Masti Khan, senior vice president of the National Workers Party and member central committee of the Awami Jamhoori Tehreek, the left-wing alliance of seven political parties and groups, along with Hasil Bazinjo, secretary of the National Party, and several other trade union leaders are kept in Karachi jail. They are facing treason charges. They all were arrested from Karachi Press Club after a demonstration of left-wing and trade union activists.

Asma Jahnghir, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, is still under house detention at her Lahore residence. I got a message from: "ok will pass this on. Keep underground. No bail this time". I had informed her about the arrest of Nisar Shah. She represented me as an advocate at Lahore Anti-Terrorist Court on September 28 and got me released on bail. Now releasing on bail has become much more difficult.

It is estimated that over 5000 political activist and advocates are behind bars on November 13, 10 days after the emergency was imposed. Lahore seems a deserted city and many ordinary people are totally against the actions of the military regime. I was told by some friends who were in the markets that there is very thin business activity and many shopkeepers were saying that it is time the Musharaf must die, "there is no other alternative to get rid of him" most were saying with most seriousness.

On November 12, yesterday, I visited my home town, Toba Tek Singh. I was told that you find no one in sympathy with the military regime here. It seems that everyone is against the military action. Many told me that they have all the respect for judges who have not taken oath. I could not walk freely but I met some friends and family members.

The LPP is planning that I contest elections for the national parliament from this town. I feel that it is useless activity to take part in elections under an emergency, which is in fact martial law. The general elections have been announced by General Musharaf on November 11 to pacify the international criticism of his dictatorial measures. It is a joke that general elections will take place while all the opposition parties are underground or their activists in jail. It is a joke to hold elections in the presence of the judges who have taken an oath in faithfulness of the military regime.

General Musharaf has asked his crony Election Commission to prepare for elections before January 8, 2008. They want to hold general elections at a time with utmost repression going on. The plan is very simple, "Opposition behind bars and government candidates with full freedom for election campaign". This is mockery of the whole democratic process.

The Labour Party Pakistan has not yet taken a formal decision to boycott the proposed general elections but we are in consultation with other left groups and parties to have a common position on the question. We are holding an emergency meeting of leading comrades in Lahore today, November 13, and in consultation with others on telephone before we take a formal decision.

General Musharaf seems more isolated after an all out attack by Benazir Bhutto while in Lahore yesterday. She is under house arrest as well in Lahore from yesterday. She went around the city to mobilize the party activists and was determined to take out a rally today on November 13. But hundreds of police have been deployed around her residence, her telephone lines cut off and she has refused to receive a detention order for eight days. The detention order has now been pasted on her home's wall. They want to show the world that they act according the procedures but what about thousands who have been arrested without showing any warrants or detention orders? There are still hundreds behind bars who have not yet been formally charged.

Benazir's changing political position in favour of democratic forces is a welcome sign. I do not agree with Imran Khan, president of Tehreek Insaaf (Justice Movement), who is still doubtful of Benazir's intentions of opposing the military regime. He will ultimately come to the conclusion that the democratic forces have to unite on one platform to launch a more effective struggle against the military dictator.

Some trade union leaders have issued press releases opposing the emergency of Musharaf. They include Khurshid Ahmad, president of the Pakistan Workers Confederation; Yousaf Baluch, chairperson of the National Trade Union Federation, Choudry Gulzar Ahmad, secretary of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation, and so on. But workers from different sectors have not yet come out in demonstrations opposing the military regime. Although, there is great anger among the working class against the military regime in Pakistan.

I have learnt to some extent in underground. I have not made any blunder that could give a chance to the state oppressive machinery to arrest me. I am not staying more than one night at a friend's house anymore. I am changing my positions now and then. I have taken a new name to speak to the comrades.

On November 11 night, I had a chance meeting with Lal Khan, the leader of the Ted Grant-Alan Woods group in Pakistan. We had worked together in exile and started our Struggle Group together in Netherlands during my exile period from 1978 to 1986. In 1991, we had parted ways on the question of the strategy of building a revolutionary party in Pakistan. His supporters were arguing to remain inside the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and do entryism to build the group. I was in the minority and argued for a new independent political party to be set up in Pakistan. It was an unpleasant split in our group that was very committed. But we had to face the realities. They are still part of the PPP and we have started building the Labour Party Pakistan.

I met him in person after 16 years. His hair has grown grey and he was not in his usual youthfulness. We had a good but brief chat on the present political situation. He was of the view that the regime is very shaky and anything can happen. He recited one of my favourite poems that we used to listen from him in exile period ("Peshawar Qatloo Tum Sapahi Naheen" — "Of you the soldiers, you are not professional soldiers but professional killers"). He seemed happy to see me. And I was also, although, we have a lot of differences of opinion on several questions. We had no moment to regret on the evening. One of my close friends had invited me for this evening at a safe place to share ideas with some friends.

On November 12, I wrote an article for our weekly paper Mazdoor Jeddojuhd (Workers Struggle) and faxed it to the office. The paper is still been printed regularly with our ideas and reports. It has been closed by every successive military regime since it started in print in 1980, including the present Musharaf regime. The very young activists, mainly women, have taken the responsibility to prepare the paper in the regular office of the paper. Very brave actions by these young women activists.

After writing the article in early morning, I had to travel four hours from Lahore to go to my home town. It was the second anniversary of the death of my father and the family was all together. I was not asked by my brothers and sisters to come but I decided to travel and saw all the family members. They are all supportive and helpful. I travelled back to Lahore last night to attend an important meeting today and share some ideas with some comrades. Staying in a small city is quite dangerous and many know me well personally in my home town, so I decided to leave the city as soon as possible.


Day 11: Run for your life

By Farooq Tariq

On November 14, at around 4.45pm, I had just got off a public bus and went to a net cafe. The owner told me that speed is very slow and there is no use sitting here. I went to another one, not far from the first place, the same answer. I came back to the main road to fetch a bus or take a rickshaw; I had not made up my mind where to go from here.

A police van came with several policemen sitting in front and on the back seats. I saw them and tried to hide myself. The police constable sitting on the front seat and the driver were the same ones who had arrested me from my home on June 3, 2007. I immediately recognized them and had gone two feet behind a rickshaw.

The police constable recognized me as well but maybe it took him few more seconds to come to conclusion that it was me. I had a Peshawari cap on my head and Punjabi Parna (a sort of long cotton shawl to cover your head and body) on my shoulder. I was also wearing new glasses, not my usual glasses.

The hat was just given to me by a comrade where we had meeting in the morning. As I was leaving the meeting place the comrade told me that the present arrangement to change my looks was insufficient, "why do not you take a Peshawari cap". I said yes but I cannot find one. He said there is one at my place and my father used it. He asked his father for permission to give it to me and the old man was quite happy to assist me in this way.

As I went to the back of the rickshaws, I saw the constable asking the other to get off the police van. Here I had to decide what to do. It took maybe part of a second in my mind to decide to run for my life. It was the quickest reaction time. I started running and the police constables then jumped in their van to follow me.

I turned to one street an then to the next one, while turning inside to the first street available from the main road, I saw the police van coming to this side. This was one of my finest fast running, not on my usual running machine with 12 kilometre an hour, but may be over 20 kilometre an hour. I turned to second on and to the third one. I did not know the area very well. I had been to the area but not like this. I did not know where to go forward. People in the street were watching with surprise what was happening. I was hoping to see an open door and jump inside, but there was not one in sight. It was like a kilometre run.

I stopped for a second and suddenly, there was a person saying to me, "Hello Farooq, how are you", he recognized me. He was walking in the street while I stopped for a while. I recognized him but the name did not come to my mind. I told him please get me inside a home immediately, police are after me. He did not hesitate for a second and it was like the third house that he asked me come in. He closed the door immediately and asked me to sit in a room. The door of the house closed but was not locked so we just went in for no time.

Aslam (a fake name) was here as teacher for two children. He had just finished his teaching and was leaving for his place. I knew him from the early '90s. He was an industrial worker and then went to study and completed his masters degree, a rare thing to happen here for a worker, and was a regular professor in a college at the present time. He used to come to our study circles. I had lost contact and did not even remember him name when we met yesterday. He was happy to save me for a while but worried what if the home boss came to know who I am. In the meantime, we heard the police van passing by. I was offered a glass of water.

He started teaching the two young students again and posing that something was missing from that day of the tuition. We needed that few decisive minutes to pass by safely. After fifteen minutes, he told me that there is another comrade living in this area. He has built a house recently, why do not we go there and you can leave afterwards. Aslam went out to see if the police were still there. After being satisfied, we left the house to go the next street. The comrade was there, fortunately, and he did not recognize me. As soon as I took off my cap, he was bloody pleased and we had good tea and chat at his place.

Two years earlier, one of my closest friends from childhood, Mohammed Amjad, told me in Amsterdam that I was going to die soon. He was always very straight to friends. Amjad was one of the original "gang of four" who started our group Struggle in 1980 during our exile period. He opted to stay in the Netherlands and was running a Pizzeria restaurant in Amsterdam. He had checked my blood pressure, it was 160/110. My weight was around 89 kilograms and my belly was getting out of control. He said that I do not take care of my health. "How the revolution will come if you die early and not because God wanted it but because of your carelessness", he warned me.

I always had good respect for him. I told him that I will do my best to change my shape and body. He gave me a machine to check my blood pressure. I bought an exercise machine and started running on it gradually to six kilometres day, sometimes on 12 kilometres an hour speed. It changed my life. I would get up early. No dizzy days, I was active like I was in the '70s and '80sw. I reduced my weight by seven kilograms and sustained it. Exercise has become part of my life, but with intervals of going to jail or visits.

It paid off yesterday. I was running like a teenager although I am 52 now. I was confident that they cannot catch me. I was doing my regular exercise maybe for this day alone. I had run for my life successfully.

I am not afraid of being arrested. I have faced police several times and was arrested without running. Most of my arrests were calculated risks. But now, my task is to organize the movement rather than going to jail as a defiant act by the LPP. Chairperson of the LPP Nisar Shah is already in jail. His arrest pictures made headlines internationally and at home. He was arrested while fighting with police and resisting. He kept the revolutionary traditions and culture of resistance set by the LPP and other revolutionaries during the last eight years in Pakistan and internationally.

But I do not want to be arrested at the time set by police and the state. Our effort is to set the agenda ourselves. Let us see how far this goes on.

It was around 5pm already. I called some friends from my new mobile. There was going to be a press conference at 4pm with the LPP main leadership present at the Lahore Press Club. I had called a comrade at 4.35pm to check if everything had gone alright. She told me that it is ok and there was good press present and no arrests made while they were coming to the press conference. The press conference was addressed by Abid Hasan Minto, convener of the Left Alliance and a very respected left-wing leader of Pakistan.

Around 2pm, while I was downloading my emails on my blackberry in a bus, I got a call from Asharaf Chadar, the police officer in charge of the LPP office area. He asked me what is planning of today's activity. We had issued a press release of the press conference and possibility of a demonstration inside the Press Club building to avoid the arrests.

When I told about the press conference, he told me point blank, I will arrest everyone coming to the demonstration. I had some good personal relationship with this police officer. He was the one who had arrested me from my office on May 3 and kept me well at the police station for three days.

I asked him if he is ok and recovered and has come out of the hospital, he was injured on November 5 after the advocates retaliated to police tear-gassing. I also told him that we do not want police to beat us and we do not want to stone the police. He said "Yes, I do not want that either but I am doing my job" and not pleasantly. I asked him not to arrest anyone coming for the press conference and I guarantee that there will be no demonstration today by us. I wanted to make sure that we are in the media on the question of the emergency and our strategies.

We agreed on this and I called the comrades to tell that they can have a safe press conference today, but do not go for the demonstration. The bus was running and I stopped my regular mobile and went off the next bus stop. I could not trust any police officer. It was this background that I wanted to check if everything had gone alright at the press conference and the police officer had kept his word. He had.

I left the area after an hour in a rickshaw and decided not to travel anymore on public buses. I have now made alternative arrangements to travel inside the city that is more secure and safe.

Earlier on in the day, some of the leading members of the LPP met and had a political discussion on the situation. It was agreed that the Musharaf dictatorship is becoming more and more isolated. He is been facing a lot of criticism at home and abroad. We agreed under such a repressive situation, the LPP will not take part in the coming elections but will be part of the movement to overthrow the regime. We agreed to welcome Benazir Bhutto's pleasant U-turn against the military dictatorship and decided to contact the PPP for a broader front alongside with left and progressive forces. We also agreed on some actions.

We congratulated the young female activists who have produced the two editions of our weekly paper Workers Struggle despite all the threats and intimidation.

I had to be more careful after the arrest of Imran Khan and other political leaders during the day. The police are haunting all the political activists like anything.


Day 14: Meeting Benazir Bhutto

By Farooq Tariq

I got a call at 7pm on November 16 from Asma Jehanghir office, "you must come tonight at 9pm at her place for an important meeting". Chairperson of the most prestigious social institution, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asma Jehanghir was just released a day earlier from her house detention. I had many second thoughts of going there. "Police must be there and so on". But, then decided to go in any case. I knew that it is something very important that is why only two hours earlier I had been contacted.

While at Asma's residence, a constable stopped me and asked why have you come. If I would have come in a car, he might not ask that question. But I was on a motorbike with my helmet on. I told him to open the gate and I am invited by Asma to come here. He reluctantly opened the gate.

Inside, there were all the signs of an important meeting. Private guards, HRCP staff and others were there to check who had come. I was immediately told by Nadeem Anthony, the public relationd officer of Asma that Benazir Bhutto is coming for a meeting the civil society activists.

Inside the meeting room, there were several of my close friends. Dr Mehdi Hasan, a radical professor at a private university, he was instrumental in Farooq Sulehria's [a leading LPP member] radical shaping; Rabia Bajwa, the women advocate who has made headlines with her commitment to the advocate's movement; my colleague and teacher in journalism from the seventies; Hussain Naqi, Fareda Shaheed, Gulnar and Mumtaz Khawar of Shirkat Ghah, a radical women's NGO; Neelum Hussain from Seemorg, another women's NGO; journalist Abbas Rashid; Imtiaz Alam of South Asia Freem Medi Association (SAFMA); Samina Rehman and Rashid Rehman, aunt and father of Timur Reham of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (CMKP); Afrasayb Khatak of Awami National Party; leaders of Punjab Union of Journalists and several more were there.

Before Benazir Bhutto's arrival, we were seated by Asma and I was among those sitting in the front row of 12. Asma distributed a letter that was to be handed over to Benazir Bhutto titled "Road map for democratic transition". There was some discussion on the letter and the following 9-point agenda was approved:
1. A democratic transition and a free and fair election are not possible under a government headed by General Musharaf in any capacity. He must resign from all offices forthwith along with the caretaker administration put in place by him.
2. The country must return to constitutional rule for which the immediate lifting of the state of emergency and restoration of fundamental rights is a prerequisite.
3. The judiciary must be restored.
4. All curbs on media must end.
5. All detainees including judges, lawyers, political activists, students and human rights defenders must be released and charges dropped.
6. Amendments made to the 1952 Army Act by Musharaf must be immediately withdrawn.
7. An independent and credible Election Commission must be constituted.
8. The spread of violence by non-state actors across the country has to be effectively countered through all possible means within the ambit of the law.
9. An independent commission must be formed to investigate widespread incidents of disappearances, torture and arbitrary detentions during the Musharaf period.

There was some analysis of the present situation as well in the letter. We had some more suggestions on the conditions of the working class and policies of the present regime, but it was explained that we are only focusing the present situation and do not want to present a long letter. The letter was unanimously accepted as letter from the civil society organizations and individuals.

Benazir Bhutto arrived and the media wanted to talk to her before the meeting proceedings could start. She spoke to them briefly. I was meeting her for the first time after 1998 when a similar but a brief group of civil society organizations met her in Islamabad before she went into exile on the question of the Shariat Bill that the Nawaz Sharif government wanted to introduce in the parliament. We asked her to lend her support against this bill. It was a good meeting and we had a brief chat between the two of us as she recognized me from my days of exile.

Benazir Bhutto is now an aging politician with some white hairs and she looked tired. The meeting started with Asma explaining the reasons for this meeting. Benazir Bhutto said she has come here to listen rather to speak and wanted to know the opinion of civil society. During the brief speech, she emphasised the formation of a new political alliance against the military regime. She also spoke the different aspects of the 1973 constitution that have to be reviewed.

Benazir Bhutto told us about her contacts with different political parties' heads and her difficulties in forming an immediate alliance. "I had a two-hour talk with Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, yesterday and agreed on many points", she said. She also spoke her commitment to democracy and Pakistan. She referred to her talks with Musharaf and told us that it was for a smooth transition to democracy, but Musharaf did not abide by his promises and now there is no question of talks with him.

She read the letter and said that she will come up with a detailed reply to this but she agreed with most of it. She made a categorical statement in favour of the restoration of judiciary, "They have shown a way forward and we must be with them. We cannot leave it to the advocates but we must have a political movement as well", she said.

There was nearly an hour and a half of questions, contributions and her reactions. It was mainly focused on policies and also on the building of the united movement.

I welcomed her detour and told her that it is very welcome. "We were all unhappy and critical about your talks with the military regime. But that is over now and we are happy." She smiled at my "detour" word.

I told her about the sheer corruption under the present military government, the plight of the working class and peasantry, the price hikes, the land mafia, the Okara struggle of the peasants, the arrests and fight back and need for a broader alliance to fight the regime. I said we do not trust at all the Americans and we have to build a movement to overthrow this government. I told her some figures of price hikes and said the issues of poverty, unemployment and labour conditions have not become her priorities. "You have only reached the middle class but the working class has to come into the field. They are not in the movement because there is not much in your program for them."

She heard me patiently and said "Yes, I agree with you on the points and it is a question of bread and butter that has to be the main issue." There were several others who referred to these points and it was a lively discussion.

I left at the last moment of Benazir Bhutto's sum up to meet Naheed Khan, her secretary and a former member of parliament, who was outside the meeting hall to take some telephone calls. We had a brief chat and she was happy to see me again. We had some time together in exile during the early '80s. She invited us for the meeting of political parties on November 21 in Karachi. I told her that over 200 activists from AJT, the left alliance, have been arrested and still more have gone to jail. While I was still talking to Naheed Khan, someone asked her to rush to Benazir Bhutto's car as she was already in the car. The road outside was blocked by all the police vans that were there for the security of Benazir Bhutto.

At the meeting, it seemed that most of the participants have been reading my underground life stories. Everyone I spoke asked me not to be arrested and organise the fight. A lot of references were made to my great escapes.

Earlier on the day, I went to attend a meeting of Lahore Social Forum but I was late for the meeting and meeting was over. They were surprised to see me there. I met some of them and discussed the present situation.

Several political activists and advocates have been released on bail yesterday but the campaign goes on. More arrests are made and some arrested are being released on bail. The most pleasant surprise came from the University of Punjab, where for the second day running, thousands of students are demonstrating against the behaviour of Islami Jamiat Tulaba (Islamic Association of Students) linked to Jamat-I_Islami. The IJT leadership kidnapped Imran Khan and then handed over him to police. There is rebellion at the campus after 30 years of religious fundamentalist occupation. We discussed some measures to intervene in this movement.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.