General Pervez Musharraf would have not expected the political scenario that has emerged after five days of martial law, imposed on November 3. His hopes for achieving normality have been dashed, despite using the most vicious repression against the advocates (lawyers) and political activists. More unpleasant surprises are still to come for the military regime, which was used to relatively stable political control until now.
First advocates, now students are emerging as political opponents to the regime. Demonstrations took place on November 7 in most public and private universities. "Student power rises from slumber" was the News International headline on November 8. All the courts across Pakistan are at standstill, and the Pakistan Bar Council has announced an indefinite strike until the state of emergency is withdrawn. There have been daily demonstrations by the advocates across Pakistan. This is extraordinary militancy by the middle class.
The press in Pakistan is full of stories of arrests, demonstrations and strikes from all spheres of society. No private TV channels are allowed to broadcast news — only the state TV channel.
The most surprising opposition to the regime has come from former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was in negotiation with Musharraf regime for a power-sharing arrangement. However the advocates' movement stopped this unholy alliance, forcing Bhutto to come out openly against Musharraf. Almost half of the arrested advocates belong to her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Bhutto has asked the Pakistani masses to rise up against Musharraf's imposition of martial law. "Restore the constitution or we will have long march from Lahore to Islamabad on November 13", she warned the regime, to which it responded with mass arrests of PPP members, originally spared in the first wave of repression.
The mainstream media are also joining the mass movement after unprecedented repression against the electronic and print media. It was "Black Monday" on November 5 for the stock exchange in Pakistan, resulting in net losses of US$4 billion dollars in one day.
Even Musharraf's close friends — the US, Britain and the European Union — have been forced to condemn his actions — in words at least. Even Australian imperialism is condemning the regime, with the Howard government terming Musharraf "a dictator" for the first time — something the Pakistani people knew eight years ago.
The movement is still growing, despite unprecedented repression. The police entered the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and arrested more than 80 activists. It was unheard of in the past that the police would raid the most prestigious independent building in Lahore. Police went in the buildings of Lahore High Court and arrested more than 700 advocates. This was not done even under the most brutal martial law of General Zia Ul Haque in 1980s.
According to the home ministry in Punjab province, 1734 political activists, journalists and advocates were arrested during the first four days of martial law. Similar figures are cited by the administrations of the other three provinces. Those arrested have been charged under "anti-terror" laws, and sent to far-off places, with no one allowed to meet them.
Supreme Court judges have been put under house arrest for courageously refusing to legitimise martial law. Police are raiding the houses of opponents of the regime on regular basis. Pakistan has become a police state in the real sense of the term. Police are seen everywhere in the main cities. There has been an increase in robberies with the police entirely focused on political repression.
The regime is becoming more isolated everyday. The state can not repress all of the opposition. The implementation of neoliberal economic measures is further weakening the regime, with daily price hikes and growing unemployment.
Left-wing groups are no longer an insignificant force in Pakistan. The student uprising against the regime is mainly the work of the left.
Opposition to the regime will be strengthening by the active solidarity of our friends and comrades outside Pakistan. The pickets of the Pakistan embassies all over the world will be one the most effective ways of expressing opposition. We are not alone, we know, but we need to know more of it.
[Farooq Tariq is the general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan, and is currently underground having narrowly escaped arrest. This was written on the fifth day of the state of emergency.]