| An arrested lawyer inside a police van during protests in Lahore on Tuesday. (AP)
Islamabad, Nov. 6 (Reuters): Pakistan’s Opposition grappled for a united response today to President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule, leaving lawyers to protest alone for a second day and bear the brunt of a police crackdown.
Ousted chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, though being held incommunicado at his residence, managed to get out a message by mobile phone to the lawyers’ movement that has been leading the public protests.
“The constitution has been ripped to shreds,” Chaudhry said. “The lawyers should convey my message to the people to rise up and restore the constitution. This is a time for sacrifices. I am under arrest now, but soon I will also join you in your struggle,” said the charismatic judge, who defied Musharraf in huge public rallies earlier in the year.
While hundreds of lawyers were detained during clashes with police the previous day, today’s protests were small and tamer. Most Pakistanis express dismay and confusion over Musharraf’s decision, and are impatient to vote for a new government.
“It just pains me that we’re living in such an unstable and uncivilised country,” said Samiya, a corporate executive in Islamabad, who believed that Musharraf should have quit rather than inflict an emergency to save his job.
While hundreds of Opposition activists have been detained, primarily from the party of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Islamist groups, the parties have yet to order their supporters on to the streets.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned last month from eight years in self-imposed exile after Musharraf gave her immunity from old graft charges, flew to Islamabad to consult other Opposition leaders but said she would not meet or negotiate with the President on forming a caretaker government.
“If I met him face to face it might demoralise everybody else,” Bhutto told Britain’s Sky Television, adding that meetings in the past had not led to fruitful results.
“It’s certainly very difficult to know what General Musharraf is going to do next, because he said one thing, and he says all the right things to me, but what he said did not happen.”
Ahsan Iqbal — a spokesman for Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf deposed in 1999, exiled and booted out again when he tried to return home in September — said Bhutto would have to give assurances that she had cut links with Musharraf before they could talk of reviving an Opposition alliance.
Former cricket star Imran Khan, now a high-profile politician but with only a small following, eluded police on Sunday amid the official crackdown and has vowed to oppose Musharraf from hiding.
In a message passed to Reuters by his former wife Jemima Khan said: “Our aim is to continue the struggle and mobilise the youth of the country from underground.”
When Bhutto landed in Islamabad today, she was swiftly whisked away, waving from the sun-roof of a white bullet-proof land cruiser as some 500 supporters chanted “Welcome, Welcome Benazir Welcome”.