UP TO 8,000 demonstrators took part in a mass picket of Downing Street on Monday, to protest against the visit of Pakistan’s military ruler General Musharraf.
Just weeks after the assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Musharraf travelled to London to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Demonstrators shouted: ‘Go Musharraf, go!’ and held up flags and pictures of Benazir Bhutto and placards condemning military rule and demanding the restoration of democratic rights.
Supporters of Benazir Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party, as well as the former cricketer Imran Khan, were among those who took part.
One demonstrator, M. Sarjov, said: ‘We are from Baluchistan, a country divided by the British colonialists in 1872.
‘From the moment of division, we have resisted the colonial borders – which are not wanted – dividing the Baluch nation, which is against every human right.
‘The whole Baluch community, all classes – the whole populaton – resisted division.
‘We are here to demonstrate against extra-judicial killing in Baluchistan – more than 8,000 academics and other professionals, like journalists, as well as students, are missing.
‘Mostly they are from the Baluchistan Student Organisation, which is a socialist organisation, as well as tribal chiefs who are missing.
‘So we are here to demand international intervention.
‘We Baluch, we believe Pakistan’s institutions cannot and will not address the Baluch grievances, because Baluchistan is the third biggest untapped oil or mineral reserve in the world.’
Basharat Hussian (chairman PTI) said: ‘We want Musharraf to go. He is not good for Pakistan.
‘In the time of his leadership, Pakistan goes from bad to worse every day.
‘There are no human rights. People are getting killed. There is nothing to eat.
‘All Pakistan people say: Go Musharraf, go.’
Naeem Ur-Rehman, a student, said: ‘The main reason for this protest is to give Pakistan the democracy we deserve.
‘We’ve made a lot of sacrifices for that and we need to get it back.
‘The biggest symbol of the dictatorship is the president and we know that while he is in power we can’t have a free and fair election.
‘He is destroying all the institutions one by one and probably the first one was the judiciary.
‘Then he went after the media and even the universities are being threatened if the students don’t stop protesting.
‘Bhutto’s assassination is another example of why we don’t want Musharraf there.
‘It’s his policies that led to the situation which our country is facing right now, where no political leader is safe.’
Mutahir Chaudhry, a student, said: ‘The thing is that this inflation bubble has been created, so that people can’t think of anything else.
‘People don’t have bread, there is no electricity, no gas and there is no sense of security.
‘Anyone can be picked up by the police or agencies of the police and kept in prison for no reason.
‘This so-called “war on terror’’ means that anyone can be picked up under the name of “terrorism’’ and they don’t have to prove anything.
‘When the Supreme Court said you have to charge these people and take them to court, at least, the chief justice was removed by force and 60 per cent of the rest of the judges were also sent home.
‘Students, lawyers, you have seen on television how they have been beaten.
‘At the biggest university in Pakistan, there were 2,000 police stationed outside the university – about 40 students and teachers were arrested.
‘All over the world there is opposition to what the government in Pakistan is doing.’
Mohamed Ilyas said: ‘We don’t like any policy of Musharraf. He is a dictator and doing Bush’s job.
‘Bush gives the dictation, he tells him what he needs, and he does it for him.
‘Pakistan needs a big leadership. Unfortunately, we have lost people like Benazir Bhutto and we don’t want to lose more leaders like her again.
‘It’s all because of this Musharraf.’
Nasir Abbas said: ‘There are so many crimes going on in Pakistan.
‘The judiciary has been removed without justification and there is a state of emergency.
‘There is no electricity in some areas, no basic food stuffs, like flour, and no water and gas, and he’s not trying to resolve these matters.
‘He’s just trying to get some support from the West so he can continue his dictatorship.
‘These Western countries should support the people of Pakistan, not dictators.’
A. Qadeer said: ‘We are here to demand: restore democracy in Pakistan and Musharraf must go – leave the government – and Mrs Benazir Bhutto’s killing should be investigated through the United Nations.
‘The US government and British government have a double standard. They have two faces: with one face they show a democracy all around the world, and with the other they are protecting and supporting dictatorships all around the Muslim world.
‘We want to live in freedom and peacefully, without the army controlling the country.
‘Every time they have ruled the country, they have killed our main political leaders and they destroy national parties.’
Mohamed Sohail said: ‘We have come to record our protest that we don’t accept General Musharraf as the president of our country.
‘He has not been elected president and we demand a fair and free election and we also demand all the communities – eastern Europe, the EU and the United States – support the people of Pakistan in their struggle to become a democratic country.’
Usman Sheikh said: ‘I think Gordon Brown should not have invited President Musharraf because President Musharraf does not represent the people of Pakistan.
‘He is a dictator, and it is about time that Gordon Brown starts supporting the people of Pakistan rather than just one person.
‘They need to learn something from what happened in Iran, because they kept supporting dictators in Iran, as well as around the world, and in the end the people of Iran turned against Britain and America.’
Mohamed Irshad said: ‘I came here to protest against butchering my brother, sister and children in Swat in Waziristan.
‘All we want is to get rid of these demoralised generals.
‘This is a rented army, rented by the CIA and Bush, which is killing its own people.
‘Tony Blair is gone. Now only Bush and Musharraf are left, who are making a lot of problems on earth.
‘We want our own people, our own representatives, working-class people to rule us.
‘We were ruled by the British first, now we are ruled by a British-trained army in different colours.’
Chaudhary Abdul Majeed, president of the Pakistan Peoples Party in Azad Kashmir told reporters: ‘We want an investigation by the United Nations, like the one into the killing of Lebanese President Rafiq Harriri to probe the killing of Benazir Bhutto.
‘Sixty-two judges of the Supreme Court are under house arrest and 50,000 people are behind the walls, in jails.
‘We don’t accept that under Musharraf’s leadership there will be free and fair elections on February 18.
‘Musharraf must quit and let the people elect their representatives.
‘Today, more than 8,000 people have come to protest.
‘And people are protesting not just in this country, but throughout the world.
‘We gave the memorandum to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and we expressed our sentiments on behalf of the whole nation about what has happened and what is happening in Pakistan.
‘This meeting (between Brown and Musharraf) is just eyewash.
‘They crush the democracy. There has been for 50 years dictatorship in different faces.
‘So much bloodshed has already been created by this dictator.’