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Thousands Arrested in Pakistan Defying Musharraf’s Crackdown

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Thousands of lawyers, human rights activists and journalists were tear-gassed, beaten and arrested Monday for protesting what they describe as nothing short of martial law. We go to Pakistan to speak with journalist Farzana Fiaz. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Pakistan. It’s been three days since the General Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency. The crackdown continues. Thousands of lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, were tear-gassed, beaten, arrested Monday for protesting what they describe as nothing short of martial law.

Over 48 hours after the crisis erupted, President Bush made his first public comments Monday, following a White House meeting with the Turkish prime minister. He did not mention cuts in aid to Pakistan, but urged General Pervez Musharraf to hold elections.

Pakistan has received over $10.5 billion in U.S. aid since September 11, 2001, three-quarters of which goes to the military, according to figures from the D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

This is an excerpt of President Bush’s statement.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I asked the Secretary [Rice] to call him to convey this message, that we expect there to be elections as soon as possible and that the president should remove his military uniform. Previous to his decision, we had made it clear that, you know, these emergency measures were — you know, would undermine democracy. Having said that, I did remind the prime minister that President Musharraf has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals.

AMY GOODMAN: Responding to reporters’ questions Monday, President Bush again reiterated the need to continue supporting General Musharraf, given his role in the so-called war on terror.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As I said earlier in my statement, that we made it clear to the president that we would hope he wouldn’t have declared the emergency powers he declared. Now that he’s made that decision, our hope now is that he hurry back to elections. And at the same time, we want to continue working with him to fight these terrorists and extremists, who not only have tried to kill him, but have used parts of his country from which to launch attacks into Afghanistan and/or are plotting attacks on America.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier on Monday, General Musharraf also spoke out from Islamabad. In an address on state-run television, the general emphasized his proclamation of emergency was designed to “insure the implementation of the transition” to civilian rule and democratic elections in Pakistan.

GENERAL PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: I am fully determined to execute the third stage of the transition that I’ve been talking of, first stage being myself being in charge from ’99 to 2002; the second stage, my indirect control in overseeing from 2002 to 2007; and now a totally civilian president and fresh elections. I am determined to execute this third stage of transition fully, and I am determined to remove my uniform.

Once we correct these pillars — the judiciary and the executive and the parliament, legislative — I can assure you there will be harmony. There will be harmony. Confidence will come back into government, into law enforcement agencies, and Pakistan will start moving again on the same track as we were moving.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pakistani leader, General Pervez Musharraf. In a separate statement Monday, Prime Minister — the previous prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, also reversed his earlier position that general elections could be delayed by a year. He asserted Monday they could take place within three months, as scheduled.

Back in the White House, the crisis in Pakistan was the main focus of Monday’s press briefing. This is an excerpt of the briefing with White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. It begins with Perino’s response to a question about the how the U.S. plans to respond to General Musharraf’s undemocratic moves.

DANA PERINO: Well, these are things that we’re going to have to consider. Obviously, having a — we want to prevent terrorists from having a safe haven in Pakistan, and that’s what President Musharraf has been helping us to do. And that has to continue. As Secretary Gates said, we don’t want to take any measures that would undermine our efforts there. But what we’d like to see is an immediate return back to the path to democracy that they were well on their way towards achieving.

REPORTER: But what he says what he’s doing is against the terrorists, that it’s necessary to preserve stability there against terrorist organizations?

DANA PERINO: We do not believe that any extra-constitutional means were necessary in order to help prevent terrorism in the region. And that’s why we are deeply disappointed with the actions, and we asked them to not do it.

REPORTER: Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?

DANA PERINO: In our opinion, no.

REPORTER: Dana, would you consider restricting aid to the war on terrorism?

DANA PERINO: Restricting what?

REPORTER: Restricting aid to the war on terrorism to ensure that it doesn’t —- in other words, would you consider being so restrictive of whatever aid you decide to give to Pakistan in the future once you’ve done this -—

DANA PERINO: Again, you’re asking me a hypothetical question about an outcome of a review that is ongoing, so I’m not going to answer the question right now, because I don’t know. I don’t want to prejudge it.


RAGHUBIR GOYAL: Thank you. Dana, six years and $11 billion of the U.S. taxpayers’ money to Pakistan until the Pakistan has become a haven for terrorism. You think President believes really that this money has worked and —

DANA PERINO: Well, we know one thing for sure, which is that Pakistani officials have certainly helped us find individuals like terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That’s how we were able to get him and actually help prevent another terrorist attack. So there has been help; we cannot lose sight of that.

RAGHUBIR GOYAL: And you think president will still call —- President Bush still call General Musharraf “president,” or he will change to “General” Musharraf now, because he has -—

DANA PERINO: The president has called on President Musharraf to take off the uniform.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the White House press person, Dana Perino, answering questions from reporters.

We now go to Pakistan for the latest. We’re joined on the phone from Lahore by freelance British journalist Farzana Fiaz. She has been reporting from Pakistan for the Associated Press and BBC since March. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Farzana.

FARZANA FIAZ: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: First, can you tell us what the latest is in the streets of Lahore?

FARZANA FIAZ: On the streets of Lahore, it’s been relatively quiet compared to yesterday. The protests that started yesterday have been continuing; however, they’ve been quieter today. There has been a large police presence, and I know that a few more lawyers have been arrested today in Lahore.

In Islamabad today, the news is that the chief justice — or rather, the ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, gave an address via mobile phone, since he is under house arrest, urging Pakistanis to rise up against the state of emergency that President Musharraf has instigated.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, now that you have just heard some of the U.S. officials’ comments, from President Bush to Dana Perino, about the — well, let’s just say lackluster response or criticism to what the general has done? Can you talk about U.S. support for General Musharraf over these years and the muted response to this state of emergency from the U.S. government?

FARZANA FIAZ: Well, I don’t think it’s any — most people are aware that the U.S. and the U.K., by association, have had a hand in these recent talks that have taken place between Benazir Bhutto, who is the desired candidate for the next prime minister. The influence that the U.S. has has been — I think, in a way, that this latest move by Musharraf is, in a way, slightly in defiance of President Bush. He’s obviously not taking his advice to the letter; otherwise he would not have declared this state of emergency. I think it’s more a case of Musharraf wanting to cling onto power at all costs, by any means necessary, and if that means defying the advice of President Bush, who many see as the real leader in Pakistan, the real person in charge, and the government being merely the middle management, I think that’s a sign that Musharraf is that desperate to cling onto power.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the statements of the fired chief justice right now and his significance as he declares this new government, new court, illegal, immoral?

FARZANA FIAZ: Sorry, what was the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about his comments, Chaudhry’s comments?

FARZANA FIAZ: Yeah. It runs in parallel to the way that the chief justice, or the ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, has been operating this year, this last year. He has really been the key figure in this discussion on democracy in Pakistan. He really has been the only person, the only public figure, who stood up to Musharraf [inaudible] demanded democratic rights within Pakistan for Pakistani people. So it’s not surprising, from that perspective, that Iftikhar Chaudhry is requesting and urging Pakistanis, ordinary Pakistani people, to rise up against the president.

AMY GOODMAN: His statements are very strong, encouraging the people to rise up and restore the Constitution, saying the Constitution has been ripped to shreds by General Musharraf, adding now is a time for sacrifice. And the significance of hundreds of lawyers taking to the streets?

FARZANA FIAZ: Well, the lawyers, again, like the ousted chief justice, have been major players, in this year especially, in their fight for democracy. They have been the ones who stood behind the chief justice when he was ousted by President Musharraf back in March, and they were the ones that supported him all the way back into office. So, again, it’s not a surprise that the lawyers are the force at the forefront, alongside the journalists, the NGO workers and the human rights activists.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there more protests expected now on the streets of Lahore, Islamabad, other places?

FARZANA FIAZ: Well, since the state of emergency was instigated on Saturday, the police have really clamped down very hard on any form of protest, something as innocuous or as innocent-sounding as a group of human rights activists meeting on Sunday. And if all of those can get rounded up and thrown into jail, then really anything is possible. And the police here, let’s not forget, you know, are not — are quite brutal and very unforgiving. They will not stop at, you know — I don’t think they realize the image that’s coming across of them and of Pakistan as a civil society.

AMY GOODMAN: And the media, much of it being closed down, how people are getting their information? Some national media not being allowed to broadcast in Pakistan, but broadcasting internationally, and the journalists on the streets being beat up?

FARZANA FIAZ: Absolutely. We have this strange phenomenon, this strange situation where we have the cameramen and reporters of the various Pakistani channels, such as Geo and Dawn News, out on the streets filming what’s going on in Pakistan, but being unable to broadcast within the country. So at the moment the only news that you’ll see on the television is the state-run PTV. [inaudible] channels that you can see the international channels, such as CNN, the BBC, Al Jazeera and others — Sky News, for example — are nowhere to be seen. There’s — the only other source of information, the press, the printed press at the moment has been relatively untouched; however, there are increasing rumors that they, too, are being raided. Some offices have been raided. There was a report that the offices of Jang newspaper in Karachi were raided and that the police are now taking a very, very active role in closely watching what comes out in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Farzana Fiaz, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a freelance journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan. Thank you.

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