Memory of Benazir Bhutto, Cut U.S. Ties to Musharraf By Medea Benjamin
Memory of Benazir Bhutto, Cut U.S. Ties to Musharraf
By Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK: Women for Peace
Our hearts and thoughts are with the Pakistani
people as they mourn the death of Benazir Bhutto.
We extend our deep sorrow to her family and the
millions of supporters who for decades have seen
the Bhutto family as a source of inspiration.
We also extend our condolences to the families
of the other Pakistanis who were killed in this
We at CODEPINK were in touch with the former Prime
Minister when we were writing our book Stop the
Next War Now. In fact, Bhutto graciously contributed
an essay that was a plea to counter extremism
and “a clash of civilizations that can lead
to Armageddon, where there will be no winners
Bhutto's assassination is a blow to people
all over Pakistan, and the world, who hold life
sacred and believe in the basics precepts of democracy.
It is also a blow to women worldwide who took
strength from seeing such a courageous, articulate
and charismatic woman playing a leadership role
in a powerful Muslim country. Inside Pakistan,
even her most bitter critics wept at the news
of her death, understanding that it is indeed
a dark day when assassination becomes a tool for
eliminating opposing viewpoints.
There is much speculation about who committed
this odious act. It could certainly be religious
militants opposed to a leader like Bhutto who
repeatedly expressed her determination to combat
violent extremists. Bhutto was perceived by many
Pakistanis as too “pro-Western,” especially
after remarks that if elected Prime Minister,
she might allow U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan
to eliminate al-Qaeda.
But it is not too far-fetched to think that the
assassination could have been orchestrated by
Pervez Musharraf or members of the military. Many
in Pakistan speculated that the government was
responsible for the bomb blasts that killed 140
Pakistanis when Bhutto first returned home on
October 18, citing the fact that the street lights
were turned off just before the attack and questioning
the lack of a serious investigation afterwards.
In fact, Musharraf had refused Bhutto's request
that an independent foreign team be brought in
to help with the investigation. This time, there
must be a serious investigation conducted by a
body independent of the government and those responsible
must be found and held accountable.
Elections scheduled for January 8 must be postponed.
Even before this tragedy, there were no conditions
for free and fair elections. The Musharraf regime
had fired independent judges, censored the press
and stacked the Election Commission. It is absolutely
key that an independent judiciary and free press
be restored, and that elections then be scheduled
under the aegis of an independent electoral commission.
The international community must put pressure
on Musharraf not to use this tragedy to impose
another round of emergency rule like the one he
imposed on November 3, which led to the crackdown
on lawyers, students, journalists and other members
of Pakistan's vibrant civil society. Bhutto's
death will be doubly tragic if it becomes an excuse
for Musharraf to stifle the very civil society
that is the true bulwark against extremism.
If Bhutto's death proves anything, it is
the utter failure of Musharraf's regime and
the utter failure of the Bush administration's
policy of supporting Musharraf. Pakistani civil
society has long been calling for Musharraf to
resign. Now leaders like former Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif have added their voice to that call,
publicly holding Musharraf responsible for Bhutto's
death and demanding he step down.
CODEPINK agrees that Musharraf is the biggest
obstacle facing a democratic Pakistan today. He
is not capable of either fighting extremists or
building a society that respects the rule of law.
My colleague Tighe Barry and I recently had a
taste of his dictatorial ways when we were kidnapped
and carjacked at gunpoint and then deported for
supporting the pro-democracy movement.
The US government must use this time to radically
change its policy in Pakistan. The Bush administration
has been a staunch supporter of Musharraf, providing
his regime with over $10 billion in financial
aid since 2001. In return, Musharraf was supposed
to fight religious extremists. But Osama bin Laden
has never been caught, and in the last few years
al-Qaeda and the Taliban have become stronger
in Pakistan. In the meantime, Musharraf's
use of US funds to crack down on the country's
democratic forces has led to growing anti-American
sentiments among the nation's moderate, secular
forces. The U.S. government should withhold assistance
until Musharraf steps down and a caretaker government
restores the independent judiciary, lifts restrictions
on the press and sets up the conditions for fair
We should also begin to focus our attention on
one of the key underlying causes for the growth
of extremism in Pakistan: the extreme poverty
that persists, especially in the tribal areas
where al-Qaeda is most active.
Bhutto spoke about this in the essay she wrote
for our book. Her words were poignant then, and
are even more poignant upon her death:
“The neglect of rising
poverty against the background of religious extremism
can only complicate an already difficult world
situation,” she said. “The war against
terrorism is primarily perceived as a war based
on the use of force. However, economics has its
own force, as does the desperation of families
who cannot feed themselves.
“Militancy and greed cannot become the defining
images of a new century that began with much hope.
We must refocus our energy on promoting the values
of democracy, accountability, broad-based government,
and institutions that can respond to people's
very real and very urgent needs.”
We, as global citizens, can pay tribute to Bhutto
by rising to her challenge. Whether in Pakistan
or in our home countries, we can dedicate ourselves
to building a world based on tolerance, cooperation
and fulfilling the urgent needs of the human family—which
are the pillars of a more peaceful world.
Pakistan's Emergency Rule Lifted, But GEO TV Still
By Medea Benjamin
GEO talk show host
Hamid Mir and GEO Director Imran Aslam with
Medea Benjamin in Karachi.
With only three weeks left until elections on
January 8, Pakistan's President Musharraf is trying
to set the stage for free and fair elections by
lifting the Emergency Rule he had imposed on November
3. While declared in the name of the war on terror,
the 42-day Emergency Rule was used to eviscerate
the judiciary by sacking independent judges and
replacing them with Musharraf supporters. It was
also used to crack down on the press, a press
that had become one of the few checks on the military
government. It's hard to consider the upcoming
elections as legitimate when two key democratic
institutions-the judiciary and the press-have
In the crackdown on the press, Musharraf did
not go after the print media, since just a small
fraction of Pakistanis read newspapers. Instead
he targeted TV and radio stations, closing them
down, beating journalists, seizing equipment.
To return to the air, the stations had to sign
a code of conduct promising not to broadcast anything
that "defames or brings into ridicule the
head of state or the military." Most of the
stations signed this under duress and resumed
broadcasting, but journalists all over the country
continue to protest the restrictions and the nation's
Press Clubs have become centers of anti-Musharraf
One TV station that has still not been allowed
back on the air is GEO, the nation's largest station.
The government has a particular vendetta against
GEO, closing not only its news channel, but also
its sports, entertainment and youth channels-costing
the station about $500,000 a day and jeopardizing
the livelihoods of some 2,500 employees.
Ironically, it is precisely under Musharraf's
rule that private television began to thrive in
Pakistan. The General was used to controlling
the airwaves through the state-run PTV, which
the public had dubbed with the slogan "On
PTV, seeing is not believing." People realized
that state-run TV was government propaganda, and
there was a thirst for independent TV outlets.
While the Arab world saw the blossoming of Al
Jazeera and other independent networks, Pakistan
saw the creation of GEO.
"The channel ran into problems from its
inception in 2002, as Musharraf tried to control
it," GEO TV's charismatic President Imran
Aslan recalled as he gave us a tour of the station's
sprawling headquarters in Karachi. At a meeting
with government officials in early 2002, the owner
of GEO, who heads a powerful media conglomerate
called The Jang Group, was informed that key members
of the GEO team were unacceptable. He was told
that if he hired a different crew, the station
could go forward. "But what the government
officials didn't know is that the owner had taped
the entire conversation," laughed Aslan.
"The next day we went straight to the Press
Club and played the tape. The government was so
embarrassed that it allowed GEO to go ahead."
The feisty station was launched in August 2002
with a talented team that innovated an all fronts,
not just the news. They revived sports that were
dying out-boxing, hockey, volleyball, football,
polo. Ignoring the threats of religious fundamentalists,
they televised marathons where men and women ran
together. On the youth channel, they had call-in
shows where young people from around the country
could say whatever they wanted, unedited, uncensored.
They changed the debate on women's rights, launching
a campaign to openly discuss Pakistan's controversial
rape laws that blame the victim, threatening her
with lashings or even stoning to death. Since
they were enforced by Zia ul Haq in 1979, these
laws have been regarded as untouchable for fear
of a backlash by powerful religious extremists.
GEO took the issue head on, and not from a more
obvious feminist perspective, but by airing debates
between religious leaders about whether these
practices were in conformance with Islam. The
debate, which included religious leaders labeling
these practices are un-Islamic and immoral, led
to the drafting of new laws more favorable to
But what landed GEO in hot water with the government
was their news show. "We would get Musharraf
and top government officials on our shows and
ask them tough questions," famed talk show
host Hamid Mir told us. "I asked Musharraf
how he could be President while on the payroll
as Army Chief, or how could he let Benazir Bhutto
back in the country but not Nawaz Sharif-questions
he found hard to answer."
GEO reporters and talk show hosts questioned
the army about missing people, about their tactics
fighting in Balochistan and the tribal areas.
They even pressed Benazir Bhutto so hard about
the assassination of her brother, questioning
how it happened under her rule, that she got up
and walked out in the middle of a show.
GEO brought irreverence and satire to the TV
screen with the hilarious animated cartoon called
"Pillow talk", which featured conversations
between Musharraf and Bush. Sometimes the two
leaders would be chatting in bed, with George
Bush wrapped up in a Mickey Mouse blanket.
"We alienated everyone, so I guess we did
our job," joked Imran Aslan. "We were
innovative, we pushed the limits, we had fun--and
the people loved us. In less than six years, we
had a lead of 8-9 points on other stations."
By closing the sports, youth and entertainment
channels, the government's goal is to cripple
the station financially. The head of GEO Sports
Channel Mohammad Ali had tried, unsuccessfully,
to petition the court to get the 24-hour sports
station reopened. "What does sports have
to do with the war on terror?", Ali asked
when we met him outside the Courthouse. "We
just lost $15 million dollars we had paid for
the right to broadcast the India-Pakistan cricket
match. The people were deprived of seeing a match
they love, and we are being ruined financially."
"This is just vindictive on the part of
the government; it's a blatant effort to put us
out of business," said Aslan after losing
the court case. "My biggest regret is that
the government is jeopardizing the livelihoods
of so many wonderful staff, who are among the
finest minds in this country."
With the upcoming elections, GEO had been poised
to play a major role. It had a campaign called
"You have the vote, don't' you?, " encouraging
people to exercise their right to vote. They had
anticipated airing debates, educating voters about
the views of the different parties and candidates,
and training young people all over the country
to report on the campaigns.
While the Bush Administration has been touting
the upcoming elections, it has been silent on
the continued silencing of GEO. It was not even
mentioned in the testimony of Assistant Secretary
of State Richard Boucher when he testified before
Congress on December 6 about continued aid to
Pakistan. Boucher admitted that democracy requires
not only elections "but accountable government
institutions, including a free and dynamic press."
But instead of using the opportunity to demand
that press restrictions be lifted, Boucher gave
the stunning conclusion that "Pakistan is
making progress toward these goals."
The U.S. government, which gives over $100 million
a month to Pakistan, should speak out forcefully
against the banning of GEO, and withhold U.S.
assistance until GEO is back on air. And when
assistance is resumed, a portion of our aid should
help GEO get on its feet financially.
An independent media is the backbone of a democratic
nation. If the US government is truly committed
to democracy in Pakistan, it should support GEO
and Pakistan's courageous journalists in their
struggle for a free press.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org),
Cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and
CODEPINK activist Tighe Barry were kidnapped by
Pakistani government agents and deported on December
4 for supporting the democracy movement.
Deported at Gunpoint
by Pakistani Government,
By Medea Benjamin
our tenth day in Pakistan, my colleague Tighe
Barry and I, both human rights activists with
CODEPINK and Global
Exchange, were arrested at gunpoint by agents
of the Pakistani government. We had just left
a student rally and were driving down the streets
of Lahore with a car full of Pakistani journalists
and lawyers. Two cars and six motorbikes came
screeching up, blocked our car, piled out with
guns drawn, dragged the journalists and lawyers
out of the car, beat the bystanders, and hijacked
the car. With the two of us huddled in the back
surrounded by shouting police, our captors raced
at breakneck speed through the crowded streets
of Lahore. We had no idea why we were being abducted
or where we were headed.
The car pulled up to the
Race Course Police Station, where more police
threw open the gate and dragged us inside. Terrified,
we found ourselves in the office of a shady-looking
character in a running suit. He had on no badge
or ID, but behind his desk was a framed certificate
made out to Faizal Gulzar Awan, awarded by the
Federal Bureau of Investigation. Great—he'd
been trained by the FBI. That made us even more
Our phone had been ringing non-stop, with our
friends desperate to find us. The police tried
to grab the phone from Tighe, but I snatched it
and stuck it down my shirt, assuming the Muslim
deference for women would keep them from attacking
me physically. I also pressed the answer button,
as a call was coming in. Infuriated, Mr. Awan
called in a policewoman to get the phone, who
pulled and shoved and pinched me, putting her
hand down my shirt while I screamed and held on
for dear life. All of that, we informed them,
was being recorded at the other end by our journalist
At that point, our captor Mr. Ijaz from the Special
Police Force, walked in, and the two of them switched
to the good cop mode. “Okay, okay,”
said Mr. Awan. “Let's all calm down.”
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Ijaz smiled. “Let's
all drink tea together.” They brought out
the tea, which we refused to drink, and tried
to talk small talk, asking us questions like “What
is your favorite Pakistani food?” and “What
is the weather like back in the United States?”
We refused to answer their questions and instead
insisted on talking to a lawyer or someone from
the US Consulate.
Finally, after making endless phone calls to
their superiors, they allowed us to call the Consulate.
We talked to the political officer, Antone Greuble,
who was well aware of the situation and said he
was on his way.
When we got off the phone, Mr. Awan shocked us
with his comment. “We
don't know why you were arrested,” he
said, “we are only carrying out orders from
high up. But I think your own government had a
hand in it because you embarrassed the Ambassador
when she was in town.” Just the day
before, when Ambassador Anne Patterson was holding
a press conference, we had confronted her about
the Bush administration's continued support
for Musharraf. Now we didn't know who to
fear more, Musharraf or our own government.
hours later, Mr. Grueble from the Consulate appeared
with two security agents. He said that Pakistani
government had canceled our visas (which were
valid for two more months). The government felt
we were engaging in seditious acts under the emergency
rules by showing up at rallies and by sitting
outside the home of detained lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan.
“Why didn't the government just warn
us that we were doing something wrong or nicely
ask us to come into the police station, instead
of terrorizing us?,” Tighe asked. “Because
this is Pakistan,” Greuble replied, condescendingly.
This is indeed Pakistan, but it is the Pakistan
of a Pervez Musharraf, a close U.S. ally who has
been receiving over $100 million a month of our
taxdollars. It is the Pakistan of a dictator posing
as a democrat, a general who took off his uniform
to please the West, but who remains the strongman
who runs the show. It is the Pakistan of Musharraf's
emergency rule, issued on November 3 in the name
of fighting terrorism but used to wage war on
the democratic forces of this country.
In our ten-day visit,
we met lawyers who had been brutally beaten and
thrown into prisons with rats and murderers. We
met judges who had dedicated their lives to the
rule of law, only to find themselves unceremoniously
thrown off the bench and even physically evicted
from their homes. We met students who had been
beaten with batons and face expulsion for participating
in pro-democracy rallies. We met journalists whose
programs had been yanked off the air and tossed
from their jobs for criticizing the government.
All this under the guise of the war on terror.
All this with the continued support of the U.S.
Back at our jail in Lahore, Mr. Greuble explained
our options. We could languish in jail for an
unknown period and then be deported, or we could
leave the country on the next available flight.
We “chose” the latter. We were released
under the care of the U.S. political officer,
who booked us on a flight the following day.
Before we left, we had a final goodbye gathering
with our newfound friends--the amazing group of
lawyers, journalists and students we had met at
rallies, vigils, debates. They apologized profusely
for the actions of their government; we apologized
profusely for our government's actions.
Reflecting on our ordeal
on the flight home, Tighe and I marveled at the
courage and determination of the Pakistani activists.
We left angry at the Pakistani government for
the way we were treated, but inspired and motivated
by the example of our Pakistani brothers and sisters.
December 2, 2007
Vigil Outside a “Sub-Jail”
By Medea Benjamin
soon as we arrived in Lahore, Pakistan on November
30, Tighe Barry and I—both human rights activists
from the United States—called the wife of the
most prominent lawyer in Pakistan today, Aitzaz
Ahsan. Ahsan is under house arrest, but his wife,
Bushra, invited us to come by their office the
The law office of Aitzaz Ahsan is connected to
his home. When we arrived, the building was surrounded
by 10 policemen. We entered the office and had
a long chat with Bushra. She told us that her
husband had been in jail for 21 days, and was
then placed under house arrest. He was not allowed
to leave the house, and visitors were not allowed
in. I asked her if we could try. She smiled and
escorted us to the door connecting the home and
sign on the door read “Sub-jail,”
and two officers were guarding the door. We greeted
them and asked to be allowed in. “We have come
all the way from the United States to meet Aitzaz
Ahsan,” I said politely. “Can we please meet with
him?” The jailors wouldn't budge.
Later in the day, about 60 members of Lahore's
civil society staged a rally outside the house.
Their signs read,
“Free Aitzaz Ahsan,” “Restore the Judiciary”,
“We want democracy.” They stayed
outside the house for about an hour, chanting
and singing. The crowd included lawyers in their
traditional black jackets, businessmen in their
suits, professional women in their colorful “shalwar
kamiz,” even several children. They were certainly
not a dangerous-looking crowd.
is Aitzaz Ahsan, who suddenly appeared on the
balcony to the delight of the protesters. He was
not allowed to speak to them, but he raised his
hand in a peace sign, and the crowd roared “Long
gray-haired, bespeckled Ahsan who is president
of the Supreme Court Bar Association, looks like
a mild-mannered professor but to President Musharraf,
he's a dangerous man. He defended the chief justice
of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry,
when Musharraf fired him back in March. Ahsan
won the battle, Chaudhry was reinstated, and Musharraf
That was just the
beginning. Ahsan, emboldened, took a case against
Musharraf up to the Supreme Court, arguing that
Musharraf could not legally be both president
and army chief. The court was
just about to decide the case when Musharraf clamped
down and imposed emergency rule on November 3.
While the pretext was the need to counter Islamic
militants, the government instead arrested thousands
of lawyers, journalists and members of civil society,
and fired the independent judges.
of those arrested have been released, but a few
key lawyers such as Ahsan remain in detention,
and the independent judges have not been reinstated.
That's why the demands of civil society are not
just to lift the emergency law, as Musharraf now
says he will do on December 16, but also to release
all those arrested, restore the independent judiciary
and restore freedom of the press. Most members
of civil society are calling for a boycott of
the elections until these conditions are met.
has taken off his uniform to please the West,
but he is still no democrat. In the past month,
his regime has shamefully beaten and jailed thousands
of this nation's best and brightest. Equally shameful
is the fact that the Bush administration continues
to back him, instead of backing the democratic
civil society struggling under his grip.
Aitzaz Ahsan is now a symbol in Pakistan of the
people's struggle for democracy. That's why we
decided to sit outside his door, his “subjail”,
in protest of his continued detention, in protest
of our government's backing of a dictator, and
most of all, in support of the Pakistani people.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global
Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. Benjamin
and CODEPINK activist Tighe Barry are staging
a 24-hour vigil outside the home of Aitzaz Ashan
in Lahore, Pakistan from December 2-3.. For more
information see www.codepinkalert.org.
November 27, Karachi,
Judges Get a Heroes'
Reception Medea Benjamin
The heroes in today's Pakistan are not the
returning former Prime Ministers—Benazir
Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif—but the Supreme Court
and High Court judges who refused to accept General
Musharraf's emergency law putting the Constitution
in abeyance. When asked to take a new oath pledging
to uphold his “Provisional Constitutional
Order”, they simply said no. While politicians
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are making deals
with Musharraf to get back into power, these judges
are putting principle over power. They may have
lost their seats on the bench, but they have won
the hearts of millions of Pakistanis.
We got to see a manifestation of this by accompanying
a group of activists in Karachi to the home of
one of the Sindh High Court Judges, Sarmad Jalal
Osmany. The judge was having a dinner party for
his colleagues who had also refused to take the
Codepink meets citizens of Pakistan who
are braving the conditions to raise their
voice against injustice. They explain what
the whole protest is about and who is the
"dream team" in most Pakistanis'
hearts. Credit: Tighe Barry
Arriving at the judge's home, the activists--an
odd assortment of students, small businessmen,
accountants, and journalists--ceremoniously carpeted
the entrance with rose petals. Armed with bouquets
of flowers, they crammed into the judge's
living room. One by one, as the judges arrived,
the group gave them a standing ovation. In all,
thirteen judges appeared. “It was thrilling
to be in their presence,” said one journalist. “We are so used to a tarnished
image of judges throughout our history who have
sold out to military regimes and corrupt governments.
Here was a group of judges who were putting the
interest of the nation above their self interest.
I couldn't believe my eyes.”
The flowers, each with the name of a particular
judge, were accompanied by a letter from the students
at the prestigious LUMS management school in Lahore.
A recent graduate had flown in from Lahore to
Karachi just for the occasion. The activists wiped
tears from their eyes as they watched the young
lawyer paying homage to the sacrifice of his elders
and read the moving letter that ended with a tribute:
“For your courage and resolve, for your steadfastness,
for your selflessness, we salute you. For carrying
on the struggle and showing all of Pakistan what
a principled stand really means, we congratulate
you. For giving us this glimmer of hope, this
tangible inspiration, this possibility of change,
we thank you.”
The activists said that in their homage to the
judges, they were representing the sentiment of
the majority of Pakistanis. “Even the flower
vendor where we bought the bouquets was moved,”
journalist Beena Sarwar told the judges. When
he found out who the flowers were for, he insisted
on sending a bouquet himself, ‘with love
to the judges.'”
Codepink is in Pakistan
to show peace and solidarity with its people.
A visit with some citizens who want the constitution
and the basic human rights restored.Credit:
The group spent about an hour chatting with the
judges, with much laughter and good-hearted banter.
It was a rare scene, since judges normally lead
very secluded lives because of the nature of their
work. They told stories about being put under
house arrest after the emergency law was declared
on November 3. And they talked with pride about
the fact that most of the judges—at both
the Supreme Court and the provincial Sindh High
Court—refused to take the oath. At the Supreme
Court, only 5 of the 17 judges went along with
Musharraf's emergency measures.
With the future uncertain, the judges have no
idea whether they will ever be able to retake
their positions. But the goal of the legal community
and their supporters is to pressure the government
to restore the Constitution and reinstate the
“Restoring the Constitution and reinstating
these judges to the highest courts in the land
is more important than elections,” said attorney
Tammy Haque. “An independent judiciary is
the basis for a democratic state. Without it,
you can have all the elections you want, but you
won't have a democracy.”
Police forcefully stopped silent protestors
who were simply holding banners. Due to intervention
by some senior citizens, arrests were avoided.
Police has been quite brutal recently
in silencing peaceful calls for restoring
the constitution and upholding the rule of
law. Credit: Tighe Barry
Day One: Karachi, Pakistan,
Sunday, November 25
Let me introduce you to a flash
demonstration, Karachi-style. Since the police
have been rounding up and jailing people protesting
General Musarraf's imposition of martial law on
November 3, one of the new tactics is a "flash
mob." Today, people gathered along the
waterfront at the McDonalds (yes, they hate gathering
at McDonalds, but it's a good landmark with a
parking lot). The group was small--about 25 people--but
they were men and women, young and old. Some women
even brought their children. They were well-dressed,
well-educated, English-speaking professionals.
Most had never participated in a protest before
martial law was declared, but they were quickly
becoming seasoned activists.
They were delighted that US activists had come
to show support. Tighe and I interviewed several
of them on camera before the action started. One
of the women was a journalist who insisted that
journalists must shed the pretense of “objectivity.”
When the government starts censoring the press,
she said, it's time for all journalists to
take a stand. Another women in her 50s was a public
health worker who bemoaned the fact that she could
not motivate more of her colleagues—doctors,
nurses, social workers, teachers—to join
the movement. “The lawyers in this country
are really the only organized professional sector
that is standing up to Musharraf,” she
said. “It's understandable that the
poor who are struggling everyday to survive cannot
afford to protest. But the other professionals
should be out here with us. And the political
parties, the ones who can really mobilize large
numbers of people, should be taking the lead.
But they are too busy jockeying for power so it's
up to us, the civil society, to lead.”
The group, holding a few banners and posters
(one said, in English: “This revolution will
not be televised”, referred to the closing
of TV stations), began walking along the sidewalk
that borders the beach. Part of the action was
to quickly spray paint the sidewalk and walls
with anti-government slogans. "Most people
in Karachi are poor," a young man said, “they
can't even afford to buy a newspaper. So writing
on the public spaces is a good way to get the
word out." They also engaged the people
walking and driving by, handing out leaflets calling
on the government to release jailed activists
and reinstate democratic rule. When a crowd had
gathered around, one of the women began to give
a speech in Urdu. She was not your typical revolutionary--in
fact, this young, beautifully dressed woman worked
in a bank. But she was passionate about the need
to restore the rule of law and drew applause from
she was talking, you could hear the siren of a
police car pulling up. You might think that
the group would have dispersed immediately (the
women with children did), but most people stayed.
One young man who was with the group kept filming
as the police approached and started yelling at
the crowd to disperse. The police didn't
like that, and two of them tried to grab his video
camera and threatened to arrest him. Two women
immediately intervened, trying to calm the police.
They escorted the man to his car, but the police
blocked the car. One of the policemen, toting
a Kalashnikov, also approached Tighe and wanted
his video camera. He started grabbing Tighe's
hand, trying to pull him to the police car. Tighe,
playing dumb, kept repeating that he was just
a tourist, while I grabbed the camera and put
it in my purse. The policeman let Tighe go, but
the standoff continued with the other man.
So the women huddled and came up with a plan
to all jump in the car. “The police are
less likely to arrest him if he is surrounded
by women,” they reasoned. So five of
us, including me (a foreigner was even better
protection), squeezed into the car. And sure enough,
it worked. They police, exasperated, finally told
him to go.
the group met in a local café to “debrief.”
The man who almost got arrested was giving high
fives to the women. I asked him if he was scared
and he shrugged. “I've seen so many
others get arrested in these last few weeks,”
he said, “I thought it was my turn.”
I asked him what he did for a living. “I'm
a dentist,” he laughed, “so perhaps
my arrest would have gotten some of my colleague
out on the streets.”
The group made some decisions for future actions:
When the police threaten us, the men should leave
and the women should stay because the police have
a harder time roughing up women. If one person
gets arrested, they should all go with him or
her. Next action, tomorrow at the Press Club.
And so it goes here in Pakistan, where lawyers,
bank tellers, journalists—and dentists--are
taking on a US-backed dictator.
November 23, the day
Don't Buy Bush's War demonstration in D.C.
Human rights activist Tighe Barry and I are on
our way to Pakistan today. It's a bit of a trek--leaving
from New York to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates),
where we have an 11-hour layover, then on to Karachi
for a week, then Lahore and perhaps Islamabad.
This is the beginning of what we hope will be
an on-going presence of US human rights observers
in Pakistan until the elections are scheduled
to take place in January.
We've been very troubled by the state of affairs
since General Musharraf imposed martial law on
November 3. Under the guise of the war on terrorism,
he has jailed thousands of lawyers, human rights
advocates and opposition leaders. Some have
been released, but many remain in prison or under
house arrest. He sacked the Supreme Court and
then stacked it with his own judges, thereby wiping
out an independent judiciary. And he clamped down
on the press, closing several stations and restricting
So we are going to learn more about the situation,
hoping to interview the lawyers and activists
who have been victimized by the crackdown. We'll
get their stories and learn how we can be of support
as they take great risks to bring the rule of
law back to their country.
With the US government shoring up Musharraf
and continuing to give millions of our taxdollars
to his regime every month, we in the US have a
great responsibility toward the people of Pakistan.
That's why this trip--and hopefully the subsequent
delegations--are so important.
CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities. The name CODEPINK satirized the Bush Administration's color-coded, fear-mongering "security" alert system that has since been phased out. CODEPINK is a lively call for the people of the world to "wage peace." More...