November 9, 2007

Pervez Replies

Benazir Bhutto had threatened to lead a rally against the emergency rule of Pervez Musharraf today, possibly sending hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis into the street in protest. Some had questioned whether the Army would obey orders to disperse such a large crowd as easily as they had with just a few hundred lawyers and their supporters, or whether the military might mutiny and send the country into chaos. Musharraf made sure we never found out:

Security officials barricaded former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto inside her home behind barbed wire, concrete blocks and armored cars on Friday morning, and turned out in force in the nearby town of Rawalpindi to quash a planned rally, dispersing protesters as they tried to assemble.

With conflict between Bhutto and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at a pitch, police early Friday began surrounding Bhutto's home, under orders to prevent her from leaving to lead the Rawalpindi demonstration. A security official said the steps were for her protection.

The Rawalpindi protest, called to oppose the national state of emergency declared by Musharraf over the weekend, failed to materialize under a heavy police presence in the city and security barricades established on the roads leading into it. There were scattered clashes through the day between police and would-be protesters, but no reports of widespread violence.

Bhutto, after attempting to leave home in a white Land Rover that drove as far as the first cordon of barbed wire, emerged from the sunroof of the car with a megaphone and said her confinement was a symbol of what was happening in the country. She estimated that around 5,000 members of her Pakistan People's Party have been arrested in recent days.

Musharraf refused to officially place her under house arrest -- but Bhutto cannot leave her house. The security cordon refused to move when she attempted to leave, but they did allow party leaders into her house when they arrived. Bhutto also conducted media interviews by phone. They have not silenced her, but they have effectively kept her from organizing any public appearances, and therefore avoided the problem that worried them the most.

The police didn't allow the rally to take place at her home, either. While the party leaders left her house unmolested, other party members didn't fare quite as well. The police hauled them off in vans when they arrived to protest. The protestors managed to roll up some of the barbed wire, but could not budge the concrete blocks.

So far, the protests have mostly come from the more secular parties, which have demanded Musharraf take off his uniform by November 15th and restore the rule of law. They have protested for democratic, civilian, secular control of the government. Now, however, the religious political parties say they will join the protests, although their motivations may not quite match those protesting now. The emergency rule may have done the opposite of what Musharraf intends: it may unite all of his opponents, a far cry from the possibilities when he allowed Benazir Bhutto back into Pakistan.

So far, this continues to look like a slow-motion disaster gradually picking up speed. Musharraf had better hope the Army remains loyal and cohesive. At this point, it's all he's got.


TrackBack URL for this entry: