Khalid Mahmood of the Labour Education Foundation was arrested (and later released), as was Nisar Shah of the Labour Party. Other arrests included the convener of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee, Liaqat Ali Sahi, and two members of the Solidarity Committee, G. Fareed Awan, Assistant General Secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Unions Federation (APTUF) and Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) (see the IUF report). Activists belonging to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum narrowly escaped arrest in Karachi; workers helped them evade police. Mohammad Ashiq Bhutta, Information Secretary of the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers, was arrested and later released.
And this is for the war on terror? As Asma Jangahir of the Pakistan Commission for Human Rights stated: "Those he has arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires."
More specifically, if Musharraf returns with a coalition of religious parties to hold him in power after all this, it will certainly seem like a cruel joke.
Pakistanis have struggled for decades for real democracy and social justice, through divisions and dictators. And they have voted for religious extremists in lower percentages than Americans have.
Now, an incredible consensus seems to be forming between workers and landless farmers and their advocates, liberals in the form of lawyers and human rights organizations, stodgy party activists, and thousands of citizens who don't fit any specific category. The idea of a Pakistan that trusts itself, that will make its courts matter, that wants to begin again without the military, or without such a domineering military, is taking hold.
Or it is trying to take hold, amid all the confusion and bitterness of what is essentially martial law.
And yet, the U.S. is worried--not so much about the broken skulls and packed prisons, but about that very energy I just described. From The New York Times:
Among Western diplomats, there is rising concern that General Musharraf’s declaration is also damaging the standing of the Pakistani Army as an institution, which has long been seen as the force holding the country together.
“It’s the concern about how the military retains its position as an institution of national respect,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “These kinds of things can be damaging to the institution, the respect for the institution and also the morale.”
The "standing of the Pakistani Army"... we're crying for THEM at a time like this?
This is not because American politicians (or "Western diplomats" generally) are so reactionary that the idea of people power makes them scurry into dark places and plot to stab the masses in the back. It's just that they have no sense of how to even talk to the Pakistan people if they had to. Sure, everyone wants democracy, but the military is an old buddy and we just, y'know, feel comfortable around it.
It's a little like the good ol' boy diplomacy of the U.S. in Central America during the Cold War. I'm sure some in the State Department or CIA genuinely wanted fair elections in El Salvador. But if the elections had to be held amid massacres and intimidation, well, at least we could keep our dinners with the elite down there.
And, when things settled down, bones of El Mozote and those murdered nuns largely forgotten, and the rebels too worn out to keep up their dreams, we could teach the "Salvador Option" to young commanders in Iraq.
I'm not saying dash it all to hell. Sure, keep your ties with generals if need be. But for heaven's sakes don't make it be about them. Make it be about the country.
Right now, U.S. rhetoric is sounding a lot closer to China and India's statements on Burma than anything else.