Violent Demonstrations in Lahore

Wire services reporting that Nawaz Sharif defied House arrest and went to a huge rally in Lahore. Thousands of demonstrators broke through a police blockade to demonstrate in front of the Punjab high court. Violent clashes, rock throwing and tear gassing ensued. Elements of a Punjabi vs Sindhi ethnic conflict emerging.

Nawaz is now at the head of a crowd of thousands heading northwest from the populous Punjabi city of Lahore to the capital, Islamabad. The News reports:

‘At GPO Road, clash broke out between enraged protesters and police which used heavy shelling to disperse the protestors. The Nawaz-led caravan comprising party workers and people kept marching on, breaking all the hurdles erected on their way while scuffles between police and protesters continued.

The caravan crossed the Kalma Chowk where heavy contingents of police were deployed to stop the march. However, the police disappeared after a while.

The number of people participating in the long march kept building up steadily and the caravan of hundreds turned into thousands. The police seemed to have changed its strategy and decided to retreat upon seeing the ocean of people approaching.

Rose petals are being sprinkled at participants of the rally by people who have turned out in great number to show solidarity with the long march. The caravan has reached Ravi bridge after it left Nawaz Sharif’s Model Town residence seven hours ago.’

The arrogance and heavy-handedness of President Asaf Ali Zardari, who is attempting to marginalize the Pakistan Muslim League (N), the second largest party in parliament and the largest in Punjab, has produced a popular reaction of great intensity.

Note that at the height of the crushing of the Red Mosque militants in summer, 2007, by the Musharraf dictatorship, there were only tiny demonstrations in Lahore. My theory is that if the Punjabis are not interested, it isn’t that important in Pakistan. Now that the Punjabis are so obviously riled up, anything could happen.

It looks increasingly as though the demonstration on Monday will take place despite Zardari’s attempts to prevent it. He would have been better off just letting it happen and letting the Sharifs have their sinecure in the Punjab.

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