Who rules Pakistan?

The country's democracy is a veneer for the shady controlling forces that sit behind it.

Who rules Pakistan? Leaving aside a degree of fast-footing by the civil servants, it is the intelligence services, linked to the army. In the last 20 years, civilian governments have had no muscle to pass legislation. The present Zardari administration, as all civilian administrations have been, is cowed. Democracy has never stood a chance because ministers are constantly under threat from the army's and Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI) dictates. Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti steadfastly refused to toe their line and do their bidding and that is why they received constant death threats, from the time they came into office.

The latest announcement from the administration is not who will replace Shahbaz Bhatti as Minister for Minorities. Rather, Rehman Malik, the interior minister, announced that henceforth, artists, students and journalists travelling abroad will need a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government. There is something hauntingly Soviet about this, and no surprise that Russian-style activity and their textbook approach to state control -- disinformation through the press, propaganda, bare-faced lying, the spreading of fear - has ratcheted up. Unbelievably the story that the ISI appear to have put out through the clerics -- in a tit for tat for the Davis affair -- is that a 'US-led conspiracy' was behind Bhatti's assassination.

Pakistan's weapon of state control has long been disinformation but now it is fear and it is getting worse, not better.

It is also a question of spreading the blame. Spitting out its own pips, the ISI doesn't want Musharaff back in Pakistan to contest elections. A third anti-terror warrant, news of which has now been pulled from Pakistan news sites, has been issued against him for association with the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Here is the second.

Many in Pakistan believe that the extremist goons who killed Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities, on 2 March, leaving leaflets at the site, and Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, on 4 January, were little more than execution squads for the ISI.

Across the Arab world, the protests have been against the control of secret police and the secret state, although there have so far been no murmurings from Syria, which has the tightest and deepest of all. Pakistan, on the surface so different with its subcontinental character and gentle people, has in the last months been shown up as a state as deep as any on the old Ottoman model. It's increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the ulemas, secret police, crack-corps janissaries and ghazis (the blood-crazed dedicated to fighting infidels or non believers) of the sunni Ottoman empire and Pakistan 's modern state.

Extremism takes few victims in Pakistan -- outside of the frontline border provinces of FATA mortalities were estimated by AP to be about 1200 a year, in a population of 170 million -- but it has the desired effect of terrorising and silencing the population. Those mad mullahs, those thuggish execution squads high on drugs (the word 'assassin' curiously comes from the Arabic 'hashshashin', literally 'hasheaters'), the official state propaganda - thousands of lawyers prepared to stand up for Taseer's killer Mumtaz Qadri, the army protecting the nation against extremists, Punjab Taliban out of control. If it isn't paid rent-a-crowds with television cameras in sight, it is as wretched as the telephone call reportedly made to Shahbaz Bhatti by the security services hours before, to tell him that they knew there was a plot to kill him. After this was done -- if the rumours are to be believed -- they went ahead.

Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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