"Musharraf Must Quit": Benazir Bhutto Takes a Much Advised U-Turn
Musharraf must quit now, says Benazir
By Nasir Jamal and Ahmed Fraz Khan: Dawn, November 14, 2007
LAHORE, Nov 13: In what is seen as a major shift from her earlier stance, Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto has called upon Gen Pervez Musharraf to step down as president, saying there is little possibility now of her working with him even if he hangs up his uniform.
She made the demand on Tuesday morning as the Punjab government mounted a massive police action and arrested nearly 100 party workers and senior leaders from various parts of the city to thwart her party’s planned ‘long march for democracy’. The PPP claims that more than 400 workers have been arrested.
Talking to reporters by telephone, Ms Bhutto said Gen Musharraf had lost the confidence of people and he was incapable of resolving the crisis.
“I’ve tried to work with him and negotiated with him to ensure a smooth and peaceful transfer of power to people through fair, free and transparent elections. But he has made a mess of everything,” she said.
She has been saying that the imposition of emergency rule, extension of the scope of the Army Act of 1952 to civilians and stifling of the judiciary and media have deepened the mess the country has been facing in the recent weeks.
Ms Bhutto, who was detained on Monday night for seven days in Lahore by the provincial government under section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) to prevent her from leading the party’s march, also said on Tuesday she was trying to forge a united front of all opposition parties on a one-point agenda of launching a joint struggle for democracy and rule of law.
“I have contacted Jamaat-i-Islami Amir Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali and some Baloch leaders, including Hasil Bizenjo, for a united front of the opposition. I’m already in contact with Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Nawaz Sharif and will also contact Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf chief Imran Khan,” she said in reply to a question.
In a news release issued on Tuesday evening, Qazi Hussain appreciated the change in Ms Bhutto’s stance and her pledge not to accept Gen Musharraf even as civilian president.
According to a television report, both Nawaz Sharif and Asfandyar Wali also welcomed the PPP leader’s demand and stressed the need for a joint struggle. However, neither Qazi Hussain nor Mr Sharif committed if their parties would launch a struggle for democracy from a joint platform with the PPP.
Police have cordoned off the residence of PPP leader Senator Latif Khosa where Benazir is staying. The main gate of the house, which has been declared a sub-jail, has been blocked by two police trucks and barbed wire has been laid around the house. All exit points on the Ghazi Road, where the house is situated, have been barricaded and are manned by policemen, causing inconvenience to residents of the area. Tractor trolleys, brimming with sand, have also been parked on exit points. Policemen in large numbers have been deployed on roofs of nearby houses.
A resident told Dawn that several people living close to Ms Bhutto’s residence could not go for work or school. “I’m an impartial individual and a resident of this locality. But I cannot leave my place without being watched and searched by these policemen.” He said he did not fear being arrested because he had done nothing wrong but “it is not the way governments function – causing inconvenience to the common man”.
Those living in adjoining streets have to take a detour and undergo a tedious procedure of questioning and search of their vehicle by police before being allowed into the vicinity.
The government insists that Ms Bhutto’s detention was necessitated by threats of a suicide attack on her and other PPP leaders and has advised her to refrain from participating in public meetings.
The PPP had asked its workers to gather at the residence of Senator Khosa for launching the protest march. But the workers could not make it due to deployment of about 900 policemen in the vicinity. In all, some 4,000 security personnel have been deployed across the city.
Some political observers blamed PPP’s “vague policies” for what they called its failure to bring the people out on the streets. They said the party had done little to mobilise the people for the march.
Still, scores of people in small groups reached a place about a furlong from Senator Khosa’s house and raised anti-Musharraf and anti-government slogans before being arrested by police. PPP leader Farzana Raja was also arrested. Some Military Intelligence personnel were present.
Yousuf Raza Gillani, Qasim Zia, Naveed Chaudhry and other party leaders were arrested at a police picket at Roohi Drain after they tried to lead a march to Kasur. Punjab PPP president Shah Mahmood Quraishi managed to lead another caravan first to Kasur and then to Okara.
PPP secretary-general Jehangir Badar told Dawn by phone from his leader’s residence that the party would resume its long march from Okara on Wednesday.
On her arrival in the city on Sunday, Ms Bhutto had warned the government against use of force to stop the long march. Despite rumours in the city that Ms Bhutto might be expelled and forcibly flown to Karachi, it could not be confirmed till late in the night if she would be deported from Lahore.
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