Protests in Pakistan

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Remember those big protests by lawyers in Pakistan when General Pervez Musharraf was President two years ago? Well, Musharraf is gone but the lawyers are back in the streets � and in a big way. Musharraf had removed judges he didn't like, including a Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court. A new elected Pakistani government had pledged to reinstate them, but that never happened. Now lawyers and opposition supporters from around Pakistan have begun a four-day protest journey from cities around the country to the capital, Islamabad. The BBC's Barbara Plett is in Islamabad. So Barbara, what has been the government's reaction to what's been called �the long march�?

BARBARA PLETT: The government has presented it as a law and order threat. In fact, the information minister was warning about possible bloodshed on the streets. And as a result, it has moved to try to stop the long march from where it started. For example, in the southern city of Karachi, lawyers and opposition supporters were arrested as they tried to gather to start their journey. Those who managed to continue on were then blocked at a main motorway going out of Karachi leading further north to Islamabad. So that part of �the long march� as they call it was not very successful. In another part of the country, however, lawyers were able to get going and they're making their way to Islamabad right now.

WERMAN: Who's behind the march?

PLETT: The march is organized by the Lawyers Movement. But they are being supported very strongly by the leader of the main opposition party, Nawaz Sharif because he has his own political grievances. He believes that the President, Asif Zardari was behind the recent court decision that bars him from holding elected office. He believes that the president is trying to prevent him from taking part in any political life. So he has come out with all fists swinging and with very strong rhetoric against the president, and gone out to try to mobilize people to take part in this march � not just because of the Chief Justice, although that is what he says, but clearly there's a political agenda as well. He's involved in a power struggle with the president.

WERMAN: Is this march likely to sway the government's position on reinstating the Chief Justice and the other judges?

PLETT: It doesn't seem likely at this point. The government's argument as far as the Chief Justice goes is that it's a complicated constitutional issue. That when President Musharraf sacked the Supreme Court during a state of emergency in 2007, he also appointed other judges to take over and those judges are still there, they can't be wished away, there has to be sort of a legal process to deal with this. But this is despite the fact that the President has twice signed written agreements that he would restore the Chief Justice. So many people don't really believe him.

WERMAN: When are the marchers expected in Islamabad, and what are the police doing to prepare for the crowds?

PLETT: The government has been quite clear that it will not allow the demonstrators into Islamabad to carry out their plan of a protracted sit-in in front of Parliament until they say their demands are met. And to that end, the authorities have apparently got shipping containers and other vehicles ready to block the roads leading into Islamabad if and when the protestors actually get that far. Now, they are supposed to take about four days converging from all over the country, and having a particularly big march from the southern city of Lahore up to Islamabad. But if Karachi is any indication, which is where the police shut down the efforts of the protestors to march out together or to go out together in convoy, they will probably try to do the same in Lahore.

WERMAN: The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad. Always good to speak with you. Thanks.

PLETT: Thank you.