The spectre of defeat haunts the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf and his supporters.
Musharraf had thought that silencing the news media by imposing martial law on 3 November would stop the emergence of a movement against him.
But the opponents of martial law have braved repression and accelerated their struggle.
The most forceful and valiant immediate reaction against the martial law came from the lawyers’ movement.
After that, the largest protest surfaced at an unexpected place – the Lahore University of Management Science where students defied police attacks.
These protests heralded the country’s first student movement in the 21st century.
First, a few students at the university participated in the lawyers’ protest on the morning after the imposition of martial law. Hundreds of students then protested at the campus and their number soon swelled to 2,000.
This example inspired students throughout the country. Students at the Quaid-i-Azam, Hamdard and Punjab universities, and the Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Technology all staged protests and held processions.
The students are protesting against the restriction of freedom of expression, the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the spread of military conflict that is engulfing the country.
They are giving voice to the conscience of the middle class.
Journalists are currently protesting daily across the country against the attacks on the media and the blocking of access to dissenting views.
A hunger strike is set to start at the Karachi press club on Wednesday of this week, to be followed by a public meeting on Thursday. Protests across the country are planned for Tuesday of next week.
Some activists have devised a strategy of avoiding state repression by holding “flash demonstrations” in small groups at different places daily.
The demonstrations are being held in Karachi and Islamabad and these protests have inspired many young people, who previously kept away from political activity, to join the protests.
A large section of the middle class previously supported Musharraf’s dictatorship against the perceived threat of “Islamic fundamentalism”.
However they have seen that Musharraf – with the support of the US and Britain – has been bombing different areas of Pakistan and simultaneously entering into compromises with the “fundamentalists” in other areas.
The “war on terror” involving nearly 100,000 Pakistani troops has killed hundred of civilians across the north of the country.
The army has faced resistance in Waziristan and now Swat in the North West Province, that has left the military either defeated or unwilling to fight.
With Musharraf in trouble, it is possible that the US will find another ally to back, such as former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Bhutto has promised to continue the US’s “war on terror” in the region.
Meanwhile opposition to the war is fuelling the protests.
Even the students who believe their economic future is secure know that if Musharraf’s rule continues they will have to live amid war, terrorism and uncontrolled state repression without basic human rights.
There is a danger that the movement will compromise too soon and win concessions that can be withdrawn as soon as the rulers regain strength.
The movement needs to spread and pull in a wider layer of working class people if it is to succeed.
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