Hundreds of Pakistanis killed at least six policemen in the desolate Sind village of Moro over the weekend, giving Pakistan its worst day of violence in a three-week-old civil disobedience campaign.
The killings, in which at least two civilians are also known to have died, could lead to direct Army intervention, escalating the stakes in a growingly violent movement against the martial-law regime of Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq.
Thus far, the Army has had little direct confrontation with the surprisingly persistent Sindi crowds, although their numbers have swollen to 20,000 in the Indus River belt.
The Moro mayhem is bound to give additional weight to the arguments of Sindi-based Lt. Gen. Ahmed Jamal Khan, who has reportedly been urging Zia to unleash the full powers of martial law.
For, although Zia, who has kept power for more than six years, may publicly view the Sind violence as only a minor irritant, there are reportedly top officers who view it as a law-and-order problem that is getting decidedly out of hand.
Yet, a military clampdown could be precisely the catalyst that could ignite the powerful province of Punjab, whose participation in the present protest - led by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), a coalition of Zia's political foes - is not only the key to the longevity of Zia, but also to Pakistan's future.
(In Islamabad, police arrested seven members of the banned Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Monday when they returned to Pakistan to lead a campaign for democracy in their native Punjab province, airport sources told Reuter.
(The group, the first of what PPP officials in London have said are up to 300 Punjabis ready to return, ended self-exile in Britain and West Germany to join protests led by the MRD. The PPP is the largest group in the MRD.
(Zia told reporters that despite the opposition protests, he planned to go ahead with his program for elections and an end to martial law in March 1985.)