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Friday, 13 March 2009

Eerie Familiar Wind in Pakistan; Private TV Taken Off Air, Military Crackdown on Protests

There is a four-day Long March taking place in Pakistan. It arises from former President Musharraf's sacking of a Chief Justice, and there was a previous Long March by lawyers in 2008, supported by all opposition parties, including the PPP now in power. The PPP was also a proponent of free speech and a free media, for Musharraf took the privately-owned GEO TV off air during times of turbulence.

Post-Musharraf, the uneasy coalition led by Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widow, and Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister, split when it became apparent that Zardari has no intention of reinstating the deposed Chief Justice and all those lawyers who were sacked alongside him. So the Long March continues, amidst a military crackdown and a ban on such peaceful protests.

With opposition leaders such as Imran Khan in fear of arrest and detention, GEO TV has again been taken off air in certain parts of Pakistan.

A notable important editor, Sherry Rehman, former friend of Benazir (I interviewed both, separately, for the BBC) supported Zardari and the PPP and was made Information Minister when Zardari came to power. In recent months, she has been at the coal face, defending Pakistan and Zardari at all junctures. A fearless editor, she has always defended a free media and has tendered her resignation due to the muzzling of a media outlet many Pakistanis watch and trust for objective analysis.

Sherry has a flat in Knightsbridge, London, which is one of the venues where I interviewed her, though I talk to her in Pakistan when I go there. She has unlimited energy, talks quickly and articulately, and paces around while she talks. For her to resign is a significant move, and that, together with the lawyers' protests and the ban on GEO TV, are red lights for Pakistani politics which the rest of the world needs to note.

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