Emergency Rule, Mass Arrests Leave Pakistan on the Brink

Crackdown Extended to Sindh Province

Last Updated 3/11/09 10:30 PM EST

With the Afghan frontier in a near constant state of insurrection, and separatist movements remaining a top concern in Balochistan, the twin provinces of Sindh and Punjab have been the stable, safe part of Pakistan. That now appears to be a distant memory.

Today, the Pakistani government imposed Section 144, or emergency rule, on the Sindh Province, matching a move yesterday in Punjab, and placing roughly two thirds of the nation’s 172 million people under harsh restrictions. The Punjab edict resulted in mass arrests of opposition members and a ban on all public gatherings. The Sindh edict has similarly banned public gatherings, and several have already been arrested. At least one district leader in Sindh has refused the order.

Shahbaz Sharif, who was Chief Minister of Punjab until last month when President Zardari imposed governor’s rule, today echoed his brother (former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif)’s call for people to take to the streets for a revolution.

A massive protest march planned to begin tomorrow is expected to be a major flash point. The government has threatened to use the army to prevent the march and the planned sit-in to follow. Many of the rights activists and lawyers who were to lead the march calling for the restoration of judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf have been arrested however, leaving the protest movement short on leadership, but with growing popular support organizers say it will continue as planned.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.