Pakistan Detains Bhutto in an Attempt to Stop Protest March
Pakistani authorities issued a seven-day detention order against the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Monday, in a bid to stop her from leading a planned protest march this week from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital, Islamabad.
Bhutto will be prevented from leaving the home where she is staying in Lahore if she tries to lead protesters, said a government spokesman, Tariq Azim Khan, citing intelligence data suggesting that she could be a target for militants.
She survived a suicide-bombing attack last month in Karachi when she returned to Pakistan, after eight years in self-imposed exile, to lead her party in parliamentary elections.
Bhutto has vowed to go ahead with the protest, but after the order on Monday, issued by Punjab province, its chances appeared slimmer.
The government, now nine days into an emergency decree that has effectively put Pakistan under martial law, would stop the protest in the same way it shut down a rally that had been planned by Bhutto on Friday, Khan said.
On that day, in a huge show of force, lines of policemen, barbed wire and concrete barricades confined Bhutto to her home in Islamabad. At the same time, thousands of police officers locked down the site where the rally was to have taken place, in a park in Rawalpindi, the garrison city close to Islamabad.
Khan said he did not know the details of how the police would prevent protesters from converging on the route of the planned march this week, 160 miles through Punjab province from Lahore to Islamabad.
About 140 of Bhutto’s party workers were killed in the attack in Karachi on Oct. 18. The government has used that attack as public justification for stopping her protests. It has also made clear that any demonstrations are illegal under the emergency decree.
The decree has also cast uncertainty on parliamentary elections, scheduled for early January.
Two of Pakistan’s bigger opposition parties said Monday they would probably boycott the elections if emergency rule was still in place. Bhutto has not yet said whether she would pull her party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, out of the election.
Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said Sunday that the elections would be held in January and that emergency rule would continue at least until then.
On Sunday, Bhutto called the announcement a “positive” but insufficient step. She assumed a slightly tougher tone on Monday, suggesting that her negotiations with Musharraf had come to an end.
“We cannot work with anyone who has suspended the constitution, imposed emergency rule and oppressed the judiciary,” she said in Lahore. “We are saying no to any more talks.”
Raza Zafarul Haz, the chairman of one of the country’s biggest parties, the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said that for free and fair elections to go ahead, emergency rule would have to be lifted and judges who were fired after the imposition of emergency rule would need to be reinstated.