Ayshe Siddique is furious. "Is this what a terrorist looks like?" she demands, sobbing with her small daughter on her lap. In her hand, she is holding a picture of her husband. Under neatly parted hair, Mohammad Azhar Siddique smiles out from a blue background. The photograph was taken when Mohammad passed his final law exams.
Pakistani protesters after being rounded up on Wednsesday.Foto: AP
His 34-year-old wife is adamant: Her beloved lawyer did nothing to justify his detention. Of course he was involved in cases that saw him taking a position critical of the government. Only recently he represented citizens of Lahore in their challenge against the state prohibition against kite flying. And yes, he is a critic of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "But is that enough for imprisonment?" his wife asks.
One of Ayshe's three mobile telephones rings yet again. "Do you know where he is?" she asks excitedly. Disappointed, she hangs up again after a few seconds. It was her uncle. He too is unable to find out where the police took her husband. The one sure thing, though, is that Azhar Siddique is locked away behind bars somewhere. On Sunday, he tried to make his way to his workplace at the High Court in Lahore to help formulate a response to Musharraf's assumption of emergency powers. But his path ended, along with dozens of others, in front of the gates before the court -- inside a police van which took him away.
Three days later on Wednesday, the police chief of Lahore, a satisfied grin on his face, walks under the ancient shade trees in the courthouse yard. "You see," Aftab Ahmed Chema says in perfect English, "everything is peaceful and quite once again." Some two dozen armed elite police officers provide security to their chief. Three hundred thirty lawyers had to be arrested, Chema says. "They were rioting and wanted to sabotage the court," he continues, still grinning. "That's the only reason why we locked up the troublemakers." He shrugs his shoulders.
Cells Crammed Full of Lawyers
Inside the courtrooms themselves, public prosecutor Javed Naseem describes his day as a perfectly normal one. Many of the 31 chambers aren't even in session because many judges refused to take a new oath to the emergency government. And even if there is a judge available, there aren't any lawyers to attend hearings. Indeed, most lawyers in Pakistan have elected to boycott the court because of the state of emergency. Still, Naseem is able to keep one case going, but only with state-employed lawyers. The only independent lawyer here says she has only come to the court to monitor her case so that it isn't decided without her.
Musharraf said last weekend that his assumption of emergency powers was necessary to keep Pakistan from collapsing in the face of terror and chaos. But on day five of overt military control, it is more obvious than ever in Lahore that the president was primarily interested in maintaining his hold on power. Instead of filling the prisons with extremists, he has crammed the cells full of lawyers and opposition activists -- those who have been making his life difficult in recent months. The timing of his move merely increases the skepticism. Pakistan's highest court was set to rule this week on the constitutionality of Musharraf's October re-election.
Musharraf on Thursday did finally announce that new elections are going to be held on February 15th, just one day after US President George W. Bush pressed him to set a date for the vote. Originally, the poll was scheduled for January.
Raids Throughout the Night
But doubt about his willingness to relinquish power is bound to remain. The opposition party of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto said on Thursday that police had arrested thousands of activists overnight. Bhutto has called for a mass demonstration against Musharraf's declaration of emergency for Friday. "They have raided homes of our activists across Punjab throughout the night," Farzana Raja, a party spokeswoman in the province, told AP. "The number of people arrested is now in the thousands."
In addition, three opposition politicians and a union leader were charged with treason on Thursday for making anti-government speeches in Karachi. Eight lawyers were also being sought for handing out leaflets critical of Musharraf.
Musharraf's Waning Popularity
Back in Lahore, regarded as Pakistan's intellectual center due to its numerous universities, nobody really knows how many people have been arrested. Journalists and human rights activists doubt the official figure of 330, and estimate the true total to be closer to 1,000. So far, none of the relatives of those arrested have received information on why they were detained. A so-called anti-terrorist court announced only that 330 men had been arrested, without giving any reasons. For wives like Ayshe Siddique, the only option that remains is to search the many prisons themselves.
After the imposition of the emergency decree, which prohibits gatherings and restricts freedom of opinion, it did not take long for the true objective of the measures to become clear. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had just sat down to a meeting with tea and biscuits when the police stormed into the house. The group is not considered particularly radical, and is more of a debating club than a political group. Nevertheless, a total of 70 people, including writers, economics professors and other Lahore intellectuals, were arrested. The assembly ban was given as the reason for the raid.
The disinformation campaign continued. "We have asked everywhere," says the local head of the newspaper The News, "but none of our police sources were able to tell us anything about the arrests."
Ali Dayan Hasan, a representative of Human Rights Watch in the Pakistani metropolis, puts it even clearer. "This crackdown has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with Musharraf staying in power," he told the Washington Post. "It is a coup against civil society, which had threatened Musharraf's power." The regime wants to muzzle all its critics, even if they are only armed with "notebooks and e-mails, not bombs," he says.
Little Interest in Politics
The biographies of the lawyers arrested such as Siddique illustrate how middle-class resistance against the autocratic ruler Musharraf -- who they originally supported -- is growing. Having grown up in a prosperous household, her husband for a long time had little interest in politics, his wife Ayshe relates. His field was tax law, and his passions were cricket and his children. "It was only when Musharraf deposed the Supreme Court (Chief Justice Iftikhar) Chaudhry (in March) that he suddenly started to read the newspapers more often and took on cases aimed at the government," she says.
Still, the recent intensity of the anti-Musharraf sentiment is not a sudden phenomenon. Musharraf came to power following his 1999 military coup promising an end to corruption and mismanagement. Like many of his colleagues, Siddique watched Musharraf slowly increase his own power and repeatedly break his promises -- and the law. Most importantly, Musharraf abandoned his promise to gradually transform Pakistan into a democracy. Instead, he strengthened his control over the military and the military's access to lucrative business deals. As Siddique's support for the president waned, many others were turning against him as well.
Journalists Chased Away
The situation became critical for Musharraf when the Supreme Court indicated that it wouldn't accept his October re-election in parliament. The constitution left the court little alternative. In Pakistan, the law clearly states that a member of the military must give up his uniform two years before he enters politics. Thousands of leaders in Pakistan, where the resume of almost every politician includes a stint in the military, have complied with the rule. But Musharraf wanted to do things differently. Before the court ruled against him, as analysts unanimously believe it would have, he declared a state or emergency.
The widespread arrests of lawyers and intellectuals have triggered a deep uncertainty in the traditionally apolitical middle class. "It's suddenly not just terrorists in the mountains that disappear mysteriously," said the editor-in-chief of News. "Its people like you and me, your neighbors or relatives." Siddique's family is also alarmed. "Now we've seen the true face of Musharraf," says his wife. "When my husband is released, we hope to keep fighting against him." She, in any case, wants to encourage her husband to maintain his opposition.
Protests on the streets likewise continue. When a few dozen students at the economics university marched on campus shouting anti-Musharraf slogans, the police were able to quickly clear the area. Local and foreign journalists were chased away.
But the students, mostly children of middle and upper-class families, are planning a larger demonstration for the days ahead. The police are waiting, their blue, Toyota paddy wagons stationed around the city. They are prepared for the many more arrests that are likely to come.