The New York Times reports:
The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, suspending the country’s Constitution, firing the chief justice of the Supreme Court and filling the streets of this capital city with police officers.
The move appeared to be an effort by General Musharraf to reassert his fading power in the face of growing opposition from the country’s Supreme Court, political parties and hard-line Islamists. Pakistan’s Supreme Court had been expected to rule within days on the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election last month as the country’s president.
The emergency act, which analysts and opposition leaders said was more a declaration of martial law, also boldly defied the Bush administration, which had repeatedly urged General Musharraf to avoid such a path and instead move toward democracy. Washington has generously backed the general, sending him more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, mostly for the military. Now the administration finds itself in the bind of having to publicly castigate the man it has described as one of its closest allies in fighting terrorism.
In blunt and brief comments on Saturday, American officials condemned General Musharraf’s move. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded a “quick return to constitutional law.” And in Washington, the White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said, “This action is very disappointing,” and he called on General Musharraf to honor his earlier pledge to resign as army commander and hold nationwide elections before Jan. 15.
In Pakistan, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the main opposition leader, returned early from a visit in Dubai, setting up the possibility that she and her party, as well as other opposition groups like the powerful lawyers’ body here, could organize demonstrations against the president. After landing in Karachi, she mocked General Musharraf and accused him of using the specter of terrorism to prolong his hold on power. “This is not emergency,” she said. “This is martial law.”
After a day of rumors in the Pakistani news media than an emergency declaration would come, the first proof came just after 5 p.m., when independent and international television news stations abruptly went blank in Islamabad and other major cities. Soon after, dozens of police officers surrounded the Supreme Court building, with some justices still inside.
Under the emergency declaration, the justices were ordered to take an oath to abide by a “provisional constitutional order” that replaces the country’s existing Constitution. Those who failed to do so would be dismissed.
Seven of the court’s 11 justices gathered inside the court rejected the order, according to an aide to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Issuing their own legal order, the justices called General Musharraf’s declaration unlawful and urged military officials to not abide by it.
By 9 p.m., Chief Justice Chaudhry and the other justices had gone to their homes, which were surrounded by police officers. The police blocked journalists from entering the area, disconnected telephone lines and jammed cellphones in the area.
Several hours later, the state-run news media reported that three justices generally seen as supporting General Musharraf had taken an oath to uphold the emergency measure. And it was announced that Mr. Chaudhry had been replaced by a pro-government member of the Supreme Court bench, Abdul Hamid Doger, as chief justice.
Just after midnight, General Musharraf appeared on state-run television. In a 45-minute speech, he said he had declared the emergency to limit terrorist attacks and “preserve the democratic transition that I initiated eight years back.”
He gave no firm date for nationwide elections that had been scheduled for January and said his current Parliament, which he dominates, would remain in place. He did not say how long the state of emergency would be maintained.
The general, dressed in civilian clothes, quoted Lincoln, citing the former president’s suspension of some rights during the American Civil War as justification for his own state of emergency.
He accused the country’s Supreme Court of releasing 61 men who he said were under investigation for terrorist activities. “Judicial activism,” he said, had demoralized the security forces, hurt the fight against terrorism and slowed the spread of democracy. “Obstacles are being created in the way of democratic process,” he said, “I think for vested, personal interests, against the interest of the country.”
Wamiq Zuberi, director of Aaj TV, one of the independent stations blacked out on Saturday, said the government had also issued two new orders sharply limiting news coverage.
The orders prohibit coverage that “brings into ridicule or disrepute” General Musharraf and other officials, he said. They also ban the publication of statements from terrorist groups, as well as photographs of suicide bombers or their victims. Violators face up to three years in prison.
Opposition leaders condemned the emergency declaration. Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent lawyer who led protests against General Musharraf this spring, was detained by the police after saying that opposition groups would announce a schedule of nationwide strikes and protests on Monday.
Before being detained, he accused General Musharraf of “criminal flouting of the Constitution,” adding, “The people and the lawyers cannot be suspended.”
Reuters reported that other opposition leaders were detained. Among them were Imran Khan, an opposition politician and former cricket star who was placed under house arrest, and Javed Hashmi, a leader of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party.
Pakistani analysts said the emergency order was, in effect, a declaration of martial law because there were no constitutional provisions allowing such an order.
“This is the imposition of real military rule, because there is no Constitution,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, an expert on Pakistani military affairs.
General Musharraf resorted to military power to gain the presidency in October 1999 when he staged a bloodless coup, and Mr. Rizvi said this was a return to those measures. “This is the first time Musharraf has brought in military rule to sustain himself in power,” he said. “He felt threatened by the Supreme Court.”
Mr. Chaudhry, the former chief justice, has been the focal point of the opposition to General Musharraf since the president fired him in March. With support from lawyers, judges and a wide public following, Mr. Chaudhry led a street-style political campaign against his summary firing that helped fuel popular sentiment against General Musharraf.
The Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Chaudhry this summer, and in September it ruled in favor of General Musharraf, saying he could run for re-election while still in uniform.
Late Saturday evening, Islamabad and other major cities were quiet. But analysts said that General Musharraf’s fate would play out on Pakistan’s streets over the next three to four days.
If Ms. Bhutto’s party and other opposition groups are able to mount nationwide street protests, the general could be forced from power. In the past, Pakistan’s army has ousted military leaders when they felt their actions were damaging to the army as an institution.
“If there are street agitations and a lot of people are arrested, he’ll have problems,” Mr. Rizvi said.
At the same time, Ms. Bhutto’s political career is at stake as well, Mr. Rizvi said. If she fails to lead protests, she will lose legitimacy as an opposition leader, he said. And if she tries and produces a paltry turnout, she could find herself in jail or exile.
Ms. Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18 for the first time in eight years under a plan that the Bush administration had hoped would bring a democratic sheen to the country even as it continued under the rule of General Musharraf. That plan now lies in tatters.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
The New York Times reports: