The anti-cartoon protests in Pakistan seem to be mounting towards a national revolutionary movement. The government has banned the latest march in Islamabad, arrested some 200 followeres of the organization that called it, and placed its leader under house arrest. But the organizers pledge defiance, even as army troops have been called to the streets. Note that even the government spokesman feels obliged to diss the protests as part of a Jewish conspiracy to defame Islam. From Pakistan’s Dawn, Feb. 19:
ISLAMABAD, Feb 18: The law-enforcement agencies detained over 200 activists of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) on Saturday, apparently to thwart a march the alliance has planned in the capital for Sunday to protest against blasphemous cartoons.
Police sources said more arrests were likely as the hunt for MMA leaders, who had gone into hiding, continued till late night.
The government has banned the march, but MMA president Qazi Hussain Ahmed and secretary-general Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the protest would go ahead as planned.
“They want to shut us in. God-willing, we will shut them in,” the MMA chief said in an interview to a private television channel.
However, a JI press release issued in Lahore said that Qazi Hussain Ahmad had been put under house arrest, apparently to prevent him from travelling to Islamabad on Sunday to attend the rally.
The house arrest orders issued by the federal government were conveyed to the Qazi at night.
Mian Mohammad Aslam, an MMA MNA from Islamabad, was taken into custody in the capital and the Rawalpindi police raided the Allahabad mosque and a madressah in the Tench Bhatta area to arrest wanted activists.
Thousands of security personnel, including the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Constabulary, will be out on the streets of Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Sunday to enforce the ban on public rallies, the sources said.
A security official told Dawn that Islamabad would be sealed. Police pickets have been set up at exit and entry points of Islamabad while random checking of vehicles had started.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a press conference that the government had informed the MMA about its decision. However, he added, despite the ban the MMA had refused to cancel its march which other opposition parties, including the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, had agreed to support.
Mr Ahmed said the government had taken every step to convey its displeasure over the publication of sacrilegious cartoons in Europe.
“We favour all those who protested peacefully, but there are elements with vested interest [who are] posing a threat to public life, property and democratic institutions,” the minister said. “We will not allow such acts.”
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Maulana Fazlur Rehman told reporters, separately, that the MMA would hold its rally as scheduled. He said the government had already allowed the MMA to stage the rally following assurances from the alliance leaders that it would be peaceful.
He expressed surprise at the sudden change in the government�s stance and warned that it could lead to an ugly situation that no one wanted.
The information minister said he was not aware of any earlier decision to allow the MMA rally.
Asked what the government’s reaction would be in case the MMA went ahead with its plan, he said: “This matter pertains to the interior ministry. I have told you what the interior secretary has informed me and the MMA leadership has been apprised of the decision.”
He said that since some elements wanted to extract political mileage from the violent protests, they were hoping such demos to continue until next month when US President George W. Bush would be visiting Pakistan.
Mr Ahmed said that violent protests in the country had provided Jews and the anti-Muslim lobby with another opportunity to defame them.