Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It is already pretty late here in Islamabad, so have to keep it short.

But the situation in Islamabad and Rawalpindi (the places where I've been today) is actually rather different than most media reports suggest. Emergency rule in Musharraf's Pakistan isn't some kind of Pinochet- or Burma-style crackdown on the opposition.

Well, what is it?

Let me tell you what I saw today.

- At Karachi airport - everything entirely normal. Nobody even spoke about emergency rule. No sign of tension whatsoever.

- Islamabad airport - same situation as always. No extra checks, no soldiers. Outside no tanks, apc's or extra security forces. Just business as usual. A lot of people outside picking up loved ones from an airport.

- Islamabad -Airport to Islamabad (20 km):
No difference with any other day. I've lived here, so I really know. A lot of people on the roads and streets - they all went to work. Halfway Pindi-Islamabad a police checkpoint, well, not a checkpoint actually, just four cops standing next to the highway (this is a permanent police post, already there for many years). Saw some other policemen trying to hitch-hike between Pindi and Islamabad.

- Islamabad.
All shops and schools open. Phones and Internet work. Mobile phone network was NOT cut off. Actually, I got today a new pak mobile connection, took 15 minutes.

Haven't seen any demonstration. Did not notice any lawyers, just nothing. No army, no extra police, no checkpoints.

All newspapers are published regularly. And the comments are extremely critical of Musharraf. "Pakistan's blackest days" and "A power hungry Musharraf" are words frequently used in papers like Dawn, The News, The Nation. More or less a free press during a state of emergency - strange, but very Pakistani. Because although military rule is nothing new to Pakistan, the country has a tradition of very open and critical debates. I reached Pakistan via Dubai. Hell, I'd rather have a Pakistani paper during martial law than these crappy Dubai-long-live-the-ruler-newspapers.
Honestly, had a tourist visited Islamabad and Pindi on Tuesday, he or she would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

So is everything totally normal?

NO, definitely not.

Around the presidential palace in Islamabad, police has blocked two main roads. Riot police is on stand by. But, honestly nothing dramatic. Just 50 cops with helmets sitting nest to a road. I guess, the White House is better protected on regular days.

Around ten TV channels are still blocked from broadcasting. Actually, TV stations like GEO or Dawn News can still broadcast, but their signal is not being transmitted by the cable companies (on government orders of course). But later on Tuesday I heard from several people who live in the country side (outside Islamabad) that they had access to all channels again. In the cities though many news channels remain blocked. As I flip through my channels in my room, I get around ten black channels. Cartoon Network and PTV (Pakistan's state TV) still are on air. PTV showed some silly show on different kind of food from the country. Really interesting of course in times of martial law...

Spoke to many ordinary people today. Except for one, nobody supported Musharraf's action. But none of these people told me they were willing to demonstrate. Some were scared to be arrested, but most of them just did not seem to care too much. "Whatever we say or want," a man told me, "In a country like Pakistan the leaders never ever listen to us. So it is the same song all over again."

I was though surprised that 99 percent of people were so negative about Musharraf. It will be very difficult for Pakistan's president to win back the hearts of minds of ordinary Pakistanis. Most of them are convinced Musharraf is just a power hungry ruler. And a lot of people told me that the emergency situation had nothing to do with fighting radical islamists, but everything with controlling the lawyers and judges.

Last, but not least: The mass arrests. True, hundreds (maybe up to 3000) people have been detained. Many though are under house arrest (which is of course not so bad). Others were put into government guesthouses. Compared to home sweet home, not a nice play to stay of course. But, at the other hand, it is also not the end of the world.

And let's not forget. Except for lawyers, judges and a couple of left wing human rights activists, a lot of arrests were made among extreme right wing islamists. Retired general and former head of Pakistan's ISI, Hameed Gul, was arrested. He is a notorious right winger, supporting Taliban and Al Qaeda. Also, the leader of Jamaat e Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, was arrested. He is a notorious hardcore right winger/islamist.

Just this: Since Musharraf has declared martial law, nobody has been killed. Around 5 to 10 people received minor injuries during scuffles between police and demonstrators (mainly lawyers).

Tomorrow more.

Harald Doornbos

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