Protests banned in Pakistan; opposition vows defiance

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.

See our last posts on Pakistan and the cartoon controversy.

  1. Meanwhile in India…
    From Haaretz, Feb. 19:

    Indian minister said offering $10m for beheading cartoonist

    An Indian state minister has offered a reward of more than $10 million and a prospective killer’s weight in gold to anyone who beheads one of the cartoonists who angered Muslims by depcting the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, the London Sunday Times reported this week.

    The offer follows a Pakistani cleric’s reward of $1 million and a car for the killing of one of the cartoonists.

    The new, larger reward was announced by Yaqoob Qureshi, minister of minority welfare in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in a speech to constituents in Meerit, northeast of Delhi.

  2. A rather harsh review…
    From AP, Feb. 18:

    In Pakistan, Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi announced the bounty for killing a cartoonist to about 1,000 people outside the historic Mohabat Khan mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

    He said the mosque and the religious school he leads would give a $25,000 reward and a car for killing the cartoonist who drew the caricatures – considered blasphemous by Muslims. He said a local jewelers’ association would also give $1 million, but no representative of the association was available to confirm the offer.

    “Whoever has done this despicable and shameful act, he has challenged the honor of Muslims. Whoever will kill this cursed man, he will get $1 million dollars from the association of the jewelers bazaar, one million rupees ($16,700) from Masjid Mohabat Khan and 500,000 rupees ($8,350) and a car from Jamia Ashrafia as a reward,” Qureshi said.

    “This is a unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize,” he said.

    Qureshi did not name any cartoonist in his announcement and he did not appear aware that 12 different people had drawn the pictures.

    We wonder: does Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi also want to kill Lars Refn, who drew a cartoon that did not show the Prophet, but dissed Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper it appeared in, as “reactionary provocateurs”? Does the fatwa include him too?

  3. Oh and, hey, how about this one?
    OK, NewsMax (Feb. 19) is not necessarily the most reliable source. But they do link to a photo…

    Cartoon Protesters: ‘God Bless Hitler’

    The Mohammed cartoon protest took a new direction in Pakistan this week, as demonstrators took to the streets in Islamabad brandishing signs that proclaimed: “God Bless Hitler.” …

    Despite wide coverage of the Pakistani protests, the incendiary pro-Nazi placards were ignored in Western media accounts.

    But a photograph posted to the web site of the German TV news station, (, shows several Pakistani women clad in traditional Muslim garb holding aloft a large white poster with a message spelled out in English: “God Bless Hitler.”

    Are you idiot leftists still hailing the protests as heroic anti-imperialism?