Qadi Hussain Ahmad, the leader of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i Islami called Sunday for massive protests against the coup of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He was speaking to a crowd of 20,000 near the major Punjabi city of Lahore. I just saw Qazi Hussain on Aljazeera condemning Musharraf as a traitor, saying in English, “This is clear treason.” The Jamaat-i Islami is still largely a cadre organization rather than a mass movement, though it did win a lot of votes in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan. It has in the past organized demonstrations as big as 80,000 in the southern port of Karachi, though for a city of Karachi’s size (9 million), that isn’t actually all that impressive. That the Jama’at got 20,000 to rally near Lahore strikes me as a bad sign for Musharraf. What is really significant, however, is that Qazi Hussain is the only major party leader openly calling for mass resistance against Musharraf, a stance which will help the popularity of his party even if (as seems likely) he winds up in jail over it.
Newsday says that Pakistani dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf seems likely to make his coup stick. Newsday argues that the major opposition leader in the country, Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party, is protesting orally but not threatening to hold rallies. Hundreds of opposition figures have been arrested, and Pakistan’s satellite and local television and radio stations are firmly under military control, as are the newspapers.
The Newsday article unwisely ignores Qazi Hussain and the signs of widespread resistance (marked by “preemptive arrests”) of party and human rights leaders. The leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), loyal to exiled leader Nawaz Sharif, is under arrest, as is prominent human rights campaigner, Asma Jahangir (a woman).
What middle class people in Pakistan think about all this is apparent in two editorials in the Frontier Post in the Northwest Frontier Province, which condemn Musharraf for not cracking down earlier and harder on Muslim extremists and also condemn him for not using constitutional means to achieve his goals.
Benazir Bhutto is flying to Islamabad on Monday, having condemned the mass arrests, and having called for early elections.
Musharraf may postpone parliamentary elections, scheduled for January, for “a year.” (Past military dictators in Pakistan have “postponed” the elections “for a year” many years in a row).
See the important string of live-blogging posts by Barnett Rubin at our Global Affairs site. Rubin is in Islamabad. He points out that Musharraf has been invoking the need to fight Muslim extremism as a pretext for his coup. But in fact, he made the (further) coup because the Pakistani Supreme Court had unanimously decided that he was ineligible to run for president, and he hasn’t cracked down on the radio station of Maulana Fazalallah, a radical. He has cracked down on civilian Supreme Court justices, on lawyers, and other distinctly secular, middle class forces in Pakistani society (along with officials of the Jama’at-i Islami, the Pakistani equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has not for the most part been violent).
In fact, the Muslim extremists are in the tribal areas, and in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the hardscrabble towns and villages of northern Punjab. If you were worried about the extremists, you’d declare martial law in the NWFP and the tribal areas. Instead, Musharraf is said to be planning to give in to the demand in these northern areas that sharia or Islamic canon law be implemented! This is a defender of secularism?
Down in Lahore and Faisalabad, no one could get more than a few hundred people even to protest Musharraf’s frontal assault on the Red Mosque last summer. But Musharraf didn’t make his coup in the NWFP, he arrested hundreds in Lahore and elsewhere in the deep Punjab, which is mostly traditional, conservative, Sufi, Shiite, or mildly reformist. There are extremists from the eastern and southern Pakistani Punjab, but they are a small fringe. That is why it is significant that Qazi Hussain of the Jama’at-i Islami could rally 20,000 persons near Lahore. When the Punjabis get excited about something in Pakistan, there is sometimes a political earthquake.
If Bush and Cheney are ever tempted into extreme measures in the United States, Musharraf has provided a template for how it would unfold. Maintain you are moving against terrorists and extremists, but actually move against the rule of law. Rubin has accepted the suggested term of “lawfare” to describe this kind of warfare by executive order.