Mar 12, 2009

Fascism in action

Even in Pakistan's troubled history of democratic governance, it is rare to find examples of the kind of open fascism we are seeing today. As lawyers and activists prepared to set out for their 'Long March' to Islamabad, Section 144 was slapped into place in Punjab and a massive crackdown initiated with raids on the homes of dozens of PML-N workers and leaders. Hundreds have been arrested; some dragged out of homes in the darkness. The PML-N claims the figure runs to thousands. In Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the action seems to have been even more vicious, with police goons arresting a prominent human rights activist after bursting violently into her home. Though Tahira Abdullah was released after a few hours – the message is clear: The Zardari administration has laid aside all pretence of following democratic practice or even the mere norms of civilized conduct and has reacted in a manner that would make many bloodthirsty dictators proud. Hundreds of lawyers and activists in the city have been rounded up and efforts to nab others are reported to be continuing in Karachi and Quetta, from where some are said to have already set out on the journey towards the federal capital. The current round of midnight raids and swoops is netting those with the highest profile, who have a place and a voice in public life, all in the name of the preservation of law and order. The ordinary men watch askance, fearful of when it may be his door that feels the rap of the baton. Feel their own heels bumping through the dust as they are dragged in the direction of the paddy-wagon and not knowing when they will again see their loved ones. Fear has never been a good tool of governance, yet it seems in these days to be the tool of preference for a government that is looking increasingly panicked and uncertain. What makes the powers that be look even more foolish is the fact that there is obvious dissent within their own ranks. Some within the PPP apparently seek to stand by the values of the late Benazir Bhutto, who had herself announced plans for a long march in 2007. They are not as willing as her widower to abandon these. Leaders of the lawyers' movement were reportedly tipped off in advance about the plan for mass arrests. Many have gone underground, including Aitzaz Ahsan, who has lambasted the measures resorted to by his own party from a secret location. Arrests of this nature had not been expected – or at least not till March 16, when the protesters are scheduled to arrive at Islamabad. The fact that the detentions are illegal and have already been widely condemned by human-rights groups and the legal fraternity has not deterred the henchmen unleashed by the presidency. Across Punjab, banners asking people to join the Long March have been torn down and lists of persons to be arrested handed out to police. The PML-N has been forced to cancel a crucial meeting as reports of fresh arrests poured in – and it is being anticipated that some effort may now be made to clampdown on a media that has brought the shameful scenes we are witnessing into homes everywhere across the country.We spiral downwards in the direction of totalitarianism, of the destruction of democratic process and institutions. Whatever good we might have glimpsed in the aftermath of last years election has died, sacrificed on the altar of ambition and selfishness that sadly grips the minds of those who govern. It is Pakistan's tragedy that we have once more been betrayed. The forces that claimed to stand for judicial independence and democratic principle have turned brutally on people. Under its present leadership, the PPP has lost all right to be called a party of the people. Those who head it have been completely exposed. Their actions have plunged a struggling nation into still greater turmoil. History will not absolve them for what they have done.

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