Pakistan's newly elected National Assembly convened today in Islamabad, the capital, without the participation of the major opposition party. The opposition Pakistan National Alliance Party Premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's landslide victory, charging that the elections were rigged.
A day-long general strike called by the National Alliance, most of whose leaders were arrested yesterday morning, closed down offices and shops throughout the country. Few incidents of violence were reported - the most serious exception was Multan, the Punjab, where several people were reported killed today and yesterday. The exact number could not be accurately determined. A civil disobedience campaign to protest violence in recent weeks.
Today's general strike was supposed to show the strength of the undoubtedly growing opposition to Bhutto. The opposition has already called the strike a resounding, success, and the government is expected to call it a failure.
As far as could be determined here in the politically important city of Lahore, and from reports coming in from elsewhere, the results were inconclusive. The general strike was succcessful enough to show that Bhutto is in serious political trouble but not successful enough to insure his political demise. The struggle, arrests and quite possibly increasing violenc are expected to continue.
Arrests are now spreading to prominent lawyers and other citizens not directly connected with the National Alliance. The convening of the National Assembly shows that Bhutto is prepared to run the country without a parliamentiary opposition if it refuses to take its seats.
National Alliance leaders still at large say that their struggle to force Bhutto's resignation and new elections will continue, but add that with their top leaders in jail, the struggle will pass to the people in the streets and they can no longer be responsible for what happens.
Vice chairman Nawab Zada Nasrullah Khan told reporters today: "Now it is a war of nerves. No person, no matter how powerful, can fight the entire nation."
Another National Alliance leader, Syed Hassan Mahmud of the Moslem League, said he thought the movement had been too soft so far. Much of the country, he said, could be brought to a standstill by using the methods used against the British. The National Alliance publicly denounces violence, but the threat is there.
Here in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, the majority of shops and markets were closed. The opposition is pointing to public support for the strike to argue that Bhutto's clean sweep of all of Lahore city's assembly seats must have been rigged.
Government supporters claim that shopkeepers were afraid to open their shops while opposition supporters say that the police forced others to open their shops.
The vast covered cloth market, with its more than 4,000 shops, was almost completely shut down and silent, with birds flying about in the rafters. On normal business days the market is choked with crowds. One shop was conspicuously open, and the owner said he was a supporter of Bhutto.
The Gold market, by contrast, was largely open but the merchants had no wares out on their shelves. "The Gold merchants are certainly not with us," said an Alliance supporter. The gold merchants said that they were afraid to show their wares for fear Alliance supporters would smash their shops.
Soldiers in combat dress patrolled the streets in trucks with machine guns on the cabs. Riot police were deployed throughout the twisting alleys of the bazaars.