The muted response to Emergency measures imposed by General Pervez Musharraf is worrying many in Pakistan. Unlike in the past, when thousands emerged to combat extra-constitutional measures, this time round the people have largely kept off the streets.
“One would have expected more people on the roads. But the streets are empty,” laments Nazish Brohi, a human rights activist. Brohi says that she has attended at least 12 public protests in the past week, but in almost all of them attendance was very thin.
Human rights activists, lawyers, a sprinkling of journalists and NGO members were seen at the protests. Ghazi Salahuddin, a local journalist, finds this indifference exasperating. “I think General Musharraf has played his cards well. The public protest over the emergency in Pakistan has been quite muted.”
One of the reasons why many Pakistanis feel the protests have not been vociferous is possibly because of a ban on private TV channels which would have shown how events were unfolding in the country.
There have been interesting twists and turns in way the public have reacted to the imposition of “Emergency-plus” in Pakistan. Many lawyers and politicians have come out on the roads and been arrested.
But the most potent force that usually appears at these times — the right wing parties — have been subdued. There have been few protests from religious parties against the Emergency. So disappointing has been the response of right wing parties that some people have accused them of being in league with the government.
This point was brought home when student activists of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party helped in having Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, arrested on Wednesday. The Jamaat is supposed to be part of the grand Opposition alliance. However, its members have sat on the sidelines as members of civil society take on the government.
While the right wing parties may have an ulterior motive, the public apathy has raised many eyebrows.
This silence, however, cannot be taken for indifference, say others. Many say Pakistanis, increasingly becoming wary of violence on the streets, have decided the best option is to stay at home. “People are being targeted by the army and suicide bombers. Where does that leave us?” asked student Mudassir Kazi.
At the same time, the onus now falls on Benazir Bhutto, who enjoys that kind of grassroots support not seen in other parties, to bring people on to the streets. But Benazir is cooling her heels under house arrest.
Many feel as things stand, it is better to remain indifferent. A small minority, however, differs. There have been protests reported from all over the country, with some schoolchildren also joining in. These children have demanded respect for human rights and democracy.
Political analysts say these are the days of drawing-room deals. “We have a tradition of proxy decision making and that is why people are elected before the elections,” said one commentator.