Pakistan Update: Fazlullah Takes Another Town

UPDATE: Police have clashed with PPP supporters of Benazir Bhutto outside parliament. This comes after a trip to Islamabad, where she is attempting to pull the old All Parties Democracy Movement back together, saying she will include PML-N and MMA as well. The planned rally Friday in Rawalpindi was banned, but she plans to hold one anyway. From AP:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called on supporters Wednesday to defy a ban on protesting Pakistan’s imposition of emergency rule “at all costs,” even as the government threatened to crush her demonstrations. She also said more than 400 members of her Pakistan People’s Party have been arrested.Supporters were planning a rally Friday in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, the opposition leader said, and intended to make a nearly 200-mile march from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital Islamabad early next week.“I request my brothers and sisters to reach Rawalpindi at all costs,” said Bhutto—who survived a suicide bombing on Oct. 18 that killed more than 140 people—setting the stage for a showdown with authorities who vowed to come out in full force.

The mayor of Rawalpindi said police would prevent anyone reaching the park where Bhutto hoped to address supporters on Friday.

“We will ensure that they don’t violate the ban on rallies, and if they do it, the government will take action according to the law,” Mayor Javed Akhlas told The Associated Press, claiming there was a “strong threat” of another suicide attack against Bhutto. He did not elaborate.

The TNSM under Fazlullah has taken another town from the police without a fight; from the Daily Times:

Security personnel surrender unharmed after militants surround Madyan * Helicopter gunships sent to target militant positionsPESHAWAR: Militants seized a town in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday and hoisted their flags over buildings after security forces surrendered, AFP quoted police and residents as saying.The town of Madyan was the third to come under the effective control of followers of firebrand religious leader Maulana Fazlullah, who is demanding Sharia law in the erstwhile tourist resort of Swat.“They seized Madyan town today, they have already overrun Matta and Khawazakhela towns” in their earlier push, a police official said on condition of anonymity.Police surrender: Police gave up their weapons, vehicles and control of local police stations, the officer and local residents said. “The militants are continuing their advance,” the police official said.

At least 37 police and paramilitary soldiers left the main police station without a fight after militants surrounded the town and assured them that they would not be harmed, residents said.

Helicopter gunships: A Swat police official said authorities had sent helicopter gunships to target militant positions in the area.

Residents said the militants were in complete control of Madyan and were patrolling the town, AFP reported. Witnesses said Fazlullah’s supporters hoisted their flags over government buildings and guarded important sites, such as banks and bazaars.

Fazlullah is taking advantage of the leadership vacuum, both at the federal level with the PCO political ramifications taking all energy, and at the local level with the Northwest Frontier Province now under a care-taker government.

Meanwhile, Benazir is calling for Musharraf to lift sanctions or face PPP led demonstrations across the country. Also Daily Times:

PPP Chairwoman Benazir Bhutto on Tuesday warned President General Pervez Musharraf to lift the state of emergency in the country and announce free and fair elections, otherwise the party’s November 9 election rally in Rawalpindi would turn into a protest demonstration. “The people of Pakistan are against the imposition of emergency in the country and want free and fair elections. President Musharraf should fulfill his promise and announce free and fair elections after lifting the emergency,” she told a press conference at Zardari House after her arrival in Islamabad. She said the PPP was ready to talk to other political parties for a joint course of action against the emergency. “I personally talked to Ishaq Dar and asked him to contact Nawaz Sharif in this regard. We are also ready to take the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and other smaller parties along, provided they denounce the emergency,” she added. 

Meanwhile there is more sectarian fighting, this time erupting in the Khyber region. Things are headed towards high boil, and there’s no lid on this pot.

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