Thursday, November 08, 2007


Situation here in Paki 'martial law' stan is still rather normal. Daily life continues uninterruptedly.

But after Benazir Bhutto's announcement of street protests for tomorrow (Friday) against Musharraf and possibly a Long March on the 13Th (next Tuesday) you can feel the tension is rising in this country.

On Wednesday I attended Benazir Bhutto's press conference, in a garden in front of a villa, in Islamabad. Here she strongly denied any rumours of a meeting between her and president Musharraf. She also announced the street protests.

This was the first time ever I saw Benazir Bhutto live (see picture, above on the right, I made of her). It is always interesting to to be around a living legend and - after the Karachi bomb attacks which killed 139 - live to tell the story. As she announced her Long March against Musharraf, I got this feeling: Hey, this might be history in the making. Because clearly, if she and her followers go for massive protests, today's Pakistan might be very much different from tomorrows'.

Bhutto is clearly adored by her followers. BB in the West might stand for Brigitte Bardot, in Pakistan BB means Benazir Bhutto. During her speech, fans and party members kept on interrupting her by shouting slogans like Long live Benazir . This even led to some annoyance among Bhutto's personal assistants.

"Shut up, it's enough now," one of them yelled at a supporter as he, again, wanted to raise the slogan "Long Live Benazir."

After the press conference, around 250 BB-supporters walked to the presidential palace, around 500 meters down the road. Riot police stood by and watched. Everything was more or less calm, until some Bhutto-supporters started to attack the cops. The policemen got their bamboo-sticks ready, hit a few people and made some arrests during minor scuffles.

At one point demonstrators pushed an iron barricade into the police lines. The cops pushed it back. Followed by the demonstrators who pushed the thing back towards the police. This was getting a little bit silly, as it looked very much like a rope pulling contest. I even could see some policemen smiling while pushing the barrier back towards the protesters (and getting the thing back five seconds later of course).

The cops then fired some five rounds of teargas over the crowd. As I stood right between the police and the protesters, the teargas did not effect me much. But it created white clouds as the sun set in Islamabad.

Until now, this country has not seen any serious protests. This of course can change tomorrow (Friday), as the first Bhutto demonstration will start in Rawalpindi, around 15 km's from Islamabad and the place where Musharraf lives. Since it will start after Friday prayer, there is a rather big chance religious right wingers might join hands with BB.

On Friday, everything will depend on the turnout. A couple of thousand and some minor riots - no worries for Musharraf. But in case tens of thousands of demonstrators show up and massive disturbances take place, Musharraf might have to seriously start to worry about his own position.

Let's wait till Friday.

Harald Doornbos

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