Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pakistan clampdown hits trade unionists

COMMENT speculating whether General Pervaz Musharaf's declaration of Emergency marks a "setback" for George W.Bush's "War on Terror" may be missing the point of what is really happening in Pakistan.

"Hard on Civil Society, Soft on Extremists", was how Beena Sarwar described it, reporting from Karachi on November 5:

"Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf appears to be following a strategy of being hard on lawyers and the judiciary, and soft on Islamist extremists -- the two groups he blamed for imposing emergency rule in the country on Saturday. On Monday, police beat up lawyers and arrested scores of them gathered outside the High Court of Karachi. Another 200 lawyers were arrested at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. In both cities, police entered the High Court buildings to arrest lawyers. The lawyers in Lahore were also at the receiving end of a heavy baton charge".

The bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto's motorcade, killing 138 people, may come to be seen as a prelude, bringing terror to the people on their streets before the General used terror as a pretext. It remains to be seen if Musharraf's clampdown succeeds and lasts. But Washington has worked with worse dictatorships.

As ever when capitalist regimes and the military clamp down on democratic rights, Pakistan's trade unionists have been among the first people targetted. Reports reaching international union federations speak of union activists being arrested in their homes and on the streets.

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine & General Workers Unions (ICEM) has deplored the arrest, two days after the emergency decree, of Rana Ayub Aki Khan, leader of the affiliated WAPDA Labor Union (PWLU).

“We demand his immediate release, and the release of the others.” said ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda. “It should not be surprising that a leader of a trade union – and one that has been outspoken in the way Pakistan has operated its public utilities – is one of the first ones rounded up and arrested.”

PWLU is strong among the 130,000 workers of the Pakistani Water and Development Authority (WAPDA). "ICEM has learned that Rana Ayub Aki Khan, along with 4 colleagues, were arrested on Monday, November 5, and are in a police jail in Gujranwala, Punjab Province. The ICEM also received notice that other leaders of WAPDA have now gone into hiding.

"The union has protested against government mismanagement and inefficiency at the public utility. It has also blamed a political patronage system with failure to deliver basic services, such as education and health. On October 29, nearly 1,000 WAPDA workers marched in Peshawar in protest of authorities ignoring the kidnapping of a co-worker at a WAPDA subsidiary, Peshawar Electricity Supply Co. Mukhtiar Khan is a driver for the utility".

The International Food and Catering Union IFU says the Pakistan Hotels, Restaurants, Clubs, Tourism, Catering and Allied Workers Federation and the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers "are among active organizations defending in the civil society coalition struggling for democracy".

"In Karachi, the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee had been actively supporting Pakistan's lawyers fighting against authoritarianism and for the rule of law. Police began arresting activists nationwide on November 3 when the state of emergency was declared In Multan (southern Punjab) Mohammad Ashiq Bhutta, Information Secretary of the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers was arrested at his home and 3 AM on Sunday. detained for 14 hours without charges before being released.

"On November 5; in Karachi, trade unions took the lead in organizing, together with civil society organizations, a protest at the Karachi Press Club. Police arrested the convener of the PC Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee, Liaqat Ali Sahi, and two members of the Solidarity Committee, G. Fareed Awan, Assistant General Secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Unions’ Federation (APTUF) and Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF).

"Police also baton charged and arrested journalists and press photographers. The journalists and photographers were released later but not the trade union leaders, who were remanded by court decision to remain in police custody for two days. The IUF is closely watching the situation of our members in Pakistan, and expresses its full solidarity with all those struggling for peace, democracy and trade union rights.

The Pakistan Labour Party LPP is also reporting arrests:
"The Programme Manager Labour Education Foundation, Khalid Malik, and President of the Working Women Helpline, Azra Shad, were arrested in Lahore along with dozens of other activists as they were attending a meeting at the offices of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan".

LPP activist Khaliq Shah reports: "Over 100 civil society activists have been arrested from a meeting of Joint Action Committee, at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Lahore on Sunday 14.00 hrs. The meeting was called to discuss the situation after the imposition of Emergency in the country by General Pervez Mushraf. Police broke the windows of the hall to enter into the meeting venue. Disrupt the peaceful indoor meeting and asked the participants to come out.

"All the participants were bundled into the police vans and driven to the Model Town Polioce Station. Among the arrested men and women include I.A Rehman, Iqbal Hyder, Robina saigol, Azra Shad, Khalid Mehmood, Mehboob Khan, and Salman Raja advocate. The other names could not be identified yet.

"Me and Bushra Khaliq, secretary WWHL were late from the meeting. When we reached the HRCP office to attend the meeting at 12;30 by that time police cordoned off the whole building and blocked the road towards HRCP office. The police refused our entry in the meeting hall. We stayed outside the hall for half an hour to asses the situation. We contacted some friends in present in the meeting on moble and apprised them about the situation outside. More contingents of police were pouring in. it was all a threatening scenario. gun totting police men on red lighted vehicles and bikes can be seen all around the HRCP hall. The police ordered all the people waiting outside the hall to leave the place.

"Meanwhile we remained in contact with some participants on phone. They told us that police have entered in the hall, stopped the meeting and offered the women participants to leave the venue while all the men were told that they are arrested. The women participants refused to go so they were also arrested along with men. later they were all taken to police station. Police has refused to tell them the nature and period of their detention. We are trying to get the names of other friends arrested.In view of the latest crackdown on political activists, Farooq Tariq, general secretary LPP is underground to avoid arrest and police is looking for him like grey hounds. last night a police raid was also conducted at his Lahore residence".

Besides human rights activists, it is being reported that police are arresting lawyers from small towns in order to preempt the lawyers' strike announced for tomorrow.Meantime, LPP leadership including party secretary general, Farooq Tariq, has gone underground to organise resistance against the imposition of military regime.The LPP demands release of all the arrested workers and vows to struggle for the restoration of democracy and democratic rights.

The LPP Chairperson, Nisar Shah, and Secretary General Farooq Tariq, in a joint statement issued on Saturday vowed to resist the imposition of Emergency in collaboration with civil society bodies, trade unions and opposition parties.

The LPP leaders appealed to activists, trade unions and civil body organisations to join hands with resisting judges and lawyers to rid the country of military regime.They said: ‘Though the regime is likely to use Taliban-occupation of certain districts in Frontier province as a pretext to impose Emergency yet it is most likely that Emergency is imposed to pre-empt a court ruling against Musharaff's re-election. Emergency means that all basic democratic rights will be suspended while courts would have their powers curtailed’.

‘Pakistan has been in grip of political crisis and regime was facing growing mass resentment. This Emergency is a desperate attempt to cling to power,’ they added.

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