Sunday, November 4, 2007

Activists Detained In Pakistan Crackdown

A day after president Pervez Musharraf reasserted control over Pakistan by declaring a state of emergency, security forces patrolled the streets of the country Sunday, rounding up key critics of the government.

According to reports, hundreds of people, including opposition politicians and lawyers who took part in vocal protests against Musharraf's rule earlier this year, are in custody. Among them: cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Javed Hashmi, acting chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. At least one television station, Aaj TV, was raided.

"We are back to square one," Dawn newspaper said in an editorial. "Back to Oct. 12, 1999. All the gains over the years have gone down the drain," it said, referring to the date Musharraf took control of Pakistan.

Nov. 3 "will go down as another dark day in Pakistan's political and constitutional history," The News said Sunday, joining the international condemnation of the crackdown.

Musharraf decided to declare an emergency and install a provisional constitution to protect Pakistan's interests, he said Saturday, addressing the nation on state-owned television. The move would ensure Pakistan's transition to democracy won't be derailed by rising terrorism and extremism.

Critics say there's another reason for the decision. Musharraf's term as president expires on Nov. 15 and the Supreme Court was scheduled to rule this month if he is eligible for another term as president. He won a presidential election by a majority in October. The latest move is likely to stall general elections scheduled for January.

Eight Supreme Court judges rejected the emergency as unconstitutional. Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry was removed from office and taken away by the military to an unknown location, reports said. Musharraf appointed a new chief justice. He accused the courts of releasing terrorists, and charged them with fostering a breakdown of law and order. The supreme court building was surrounded by soldiers.

The government shut down the transmission of private media channels and cut telephone services in the capital Islamabad. Justifying a ban on TV stations, Musharraf accused the media of spreading "negativism." He restricted them from expressing any opinion "prejudicial" to himself or to Pakistan.

The bulk of the president's address was in Urdu, but he switched to English toward the end to make an appeal to Pakistan's "friends in the West--the U.S., the European Union and the Commonwealth." Musharraf asked for understanding of the "critical situation" the nation was in.

"Please do not expect or demand your level of democracy, which you learned over a number of centuries. Please also do not demand or expect your number of civil rights, human rights or civil liberties … Please give us time. For me and every Pakistani, Pakistan comes first," Musharraf said, comparing his actions with those of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln to preserve the union.

A wave of Islamist militancy in the country claimed hundreds of lives in the last few weeks. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan last month was marked by a suicide bombing which killed 139 people. After news of the emergency broke Saturday, Bhutto returned to Pakistan from Dubai.

She was welcomed by throngs of supporters when she arrived in the business district of Karachi. After Musharraf's address, she said the president had imposed martial law by putting the constitution in abeyance and taking complete control of the nation.

"This is a situation worse than an emergency. The people of Pakistan will not accept this," Bhutto said, accusing Musharraf of taking the step to pre-empt a likely court ruling against his presidency.

Former Prime Minister Sharif also slammed the move. He'd attempted to return to Pakistan in September, but was deported to Saudi Arabia by the general. "We have not witnessed such a grave situation in the 60 years of Pakistan's history," Sharif told an Indian news channel.

Some Pakistani citizens indicated the move could help the nation, though it was a blow for civil rights. "It's very quiet on the streets of Karachi," Mahim Rehman, head of research at DLA Capital, said late Saturday. "Over the last week, we had an indication this could happen because of the worsening law and order situation and speculation that the Supreme Court would rule against Musharraf's presidency. If Musharraf seems to be in control again, that will be seen a positive sign." Musharraf said a rise in extremism was hurting foreign investment.

Musharraf has been under pressure from the international community to restore democracy through nationwide elections. International reaction to the crackdown was swift.

"It's highly regrettable that Pakistan's president has declared a state of martial law," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday. "The U.S. does not support extra constitutional measures." American officials reportedly made requests to Musharraf not to impose emergency rule this week, indicating it could jeopardize U.S. financial support for his military.

"We regret the difficult times that Pakistan is passing through," neighboring India's external affairs ministry said in a statement. "We trust that conditions of normalcy will soon return, permitting Pakistan's transition to stability and democracy to continue."

In Britain, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "We recognize the threat to peace and security faced by the country, but its future rests on harnessing the power of democracy and the rule of law to achieve the goals of stability, development and countering terrorism. I am gravely concerned by the measures adopted [Saturday], which will take Pakistan further from these goals."

Activists detained in Pakistan crackdown

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- President Gen. Pervez Musharraf cracked down hard on opponents today, the second day of emergency rule in the country, and his government suggested that scheduled elections could be put off for as long as a year.

Hundreds of political activists, senior judges and human-rights leaders were rounded up by police. The country's deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was confined to his cordoned-off home, with no one allowed to approach.

Private news channels remained off the air and were told they would be subject to strict new regulations if and when they resumed broadcasting.

"He has a long agenda, a long list," said Ahsan Iqbal, an opposition party leader, referring to Musharraf.

Iqbal, a senior member of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, fled into hiding just steps ahead of police who came to his home to arrest him.

"This is not going to end any time soon," he said. "Whether in prison or not, it is as if we are all in jail."

Some of the country's most venerable jurists and human-rights activists were among those rounded up and roughly bundled into police vans.

They included Munir Malik, a senior attorney who has been at the forefront of a pro-democracy movement that swelled in recent months, and Asma Jehangir, a distinguished lawyer who leads the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Up to 200 policemen stormed the office of the rights commission in the eastern city of Lahore, arresting all the group's senior staff.

Musharraf, whose popularity and prestige have nose-dived this year, declared a state of emergency on Saturday evening, granting himself extraordinary powers to suppress dissent.

The Pakistani leader's aides said no decision had been reached on how long the state of emergency might last.

"We will see what is necessary," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters.

The emergency declaration was ostensibly in response to deteriorating security in the face of an Islamist insurgency and a spate of suicide bombings in Pakistani cities.

But most observers were united in the view that Musharraf acted to preempt a potential legal ruling invalidating his election to another term as president while retaining his position as military chief.

The general had promised to step down as head of the army once he was inaugurated to a second presidential term, but there appears to be no prospect of that happening now.

"Musharraf's Second Coup," read the headline in the independent Dawn newspaper. The general seized power in a 1999 coup.

Musharraf has quickly set about remaking the judiciary, only allowing judges who swear allegiance to retain their posts. Five of the 19-member Supreme Court bench have done so; the rest refused.

The high court was to have ruled this week on whether Musharraf's Oct. 6 reelection by lawmakers was valid. That case is now off the docket, court officials said.

Some small street protests broke out today. But most opposition leaders, at least for the time being, refrained from calling supporters into the streets, apparently fearing a bloodbath. Police used batons to break up one gathering of several dozen protesters not far from the presidential compound.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to the country from a brief visit to Dubai just as the emergency order was taking effect, remained largely out of sight in her residential and office compound in the port city of Karachi.

In Pakistan's large cities, many markets and businesses were open as usual. But paramilitary troops patrolled in Islamabad, sealing off most government buildings and other sensitive locations such as the private television channels.

Aziz, the prime minister, acknowledged that about 500 people were being held in what he described as preventive detention. Activists said they believed the figure was much higher.

Musharraf Consolidates His Control With Arrests

Bhutto spent today at her residence in Karachi. Leaders of her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, said she would fly to Islamabad to hold talks with other opposition parties about how to proceed. But Bhutto did not show up here.

In interviews with foreign television channels, Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan after years in exile in October with the backing of the United States, appealed for free and fair elections. But sympathizers to her cause said her options for influencing the situation appeared limited.

Organizing large protests under emergency rule, and after the bomb attack on her arrival procession Oct. 18 that killed 140 people, would be difficult, said Najem Sethi, the editor in chief of The Daily Times.

“Verbally she will be very critical,” Sethi said. “But she is not going to participate in protests. She’s going to make a token representation. Behind the scenes she will work with the government for elections as soon as possible.”

Musharraf summoned foreign diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, Anne Patterson, to a meeting Sunday to explain the reasons for his action, according to diplomats.

The emergency rule came into force less than 24 hours after Musharraf met here with the senior United States. military commander in the region, Admiral William Fallon, who warned the Pakistani leader that U.S. military assistance would be in jeopardy if he introduced martial law, diplomats said.

Soon after Musharraf’s emergency decree, Washington officials said it was unlikely that the military aid would be cut. Indeed, the general tailored his decree to stress the necessity of continuing the fight against Islamic extremists sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which may have made it difficult for the United States to back off its commitments.

Musharraf acted just days before the Supreme Court was due to decide on the legality of his re-election on Oct. 6.

Among the dozens of lawyers arrested was the president of the Supreme Court bar association, Aitzaz Ahsan, who has opposed Musharraf in legal arguments and in political protests, said Ayesha Tammy Haq, an Islamabad lawyer.

“If you want to take the country away from Talibanization, these are the people who can do it, the secular middle class,” said Haq, as she waited Sunday at the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi to see Ahsan.

A government spokesman, Tariq Aziz Khan, said the arrests of lawyers were “preventive measures” taken because of a “threat to future law and order.”

In the spring, lawyers spearheaded opposition to Musharraf after he fired the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Supreme Court later reinstated Chaudhry, who continued to irritate Musharraf. By the end of last week, the general seemed unsure that the Supreme Court would rule favorably on his re-election.

Under the emergency declaration, the Supreme Court justices were ordered to take an oath to abide by a “provisional constitutional order” that replaces the country’s existing Constitution. Seven justices rejected the order Saturday night, according to an aide to Chaudhry.

Hours later, the state-run news media reported that three justices generally seen as supporting Musharraf had taken an oath to uphold the emergency measure. And it was announced that Chaudhry had been replaced by a pro-government member of the Supreme Court bench, Abdul Hamid Doger, as chief justice.

The director of the private television channel Aaj TV, Wamiq Zuberi, said a magistrate accompanied by five vans of gun-toting police officers showed up at the channel’s studios here Saturday night. They wanted to confiscate the channel’s outdoor broadcasting van, Zuberi said. But the magistrate did not have a warrant, and the workers at the studio stood their ground, forcing the officials to leave, Zuberi said.

Aziz, the prime minister, said today that the government planned to work on “a code of conduct” for broadcasters.

Representatives of several of the major opposition parties said their workers had been arrested. Ahsan Iqbal, the secretary for information of the Muslim League party, headed by the exiled politician Nawaz Sharif, said that eight party members had been arrested in the remote district of Narowal on the border with India.

West urges Pakistan to lift martial law, return to democracy

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was under fire at home and abroad Sunday after declaring an indefinite state of emergency that the West is calling a blow to democracy.

Pakistani Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said the move -- which suspends the constitution and expands Musharraf's powers -- was necessary because "things had gone totally haywire."

Musharraf made the declaration Saturday in reaction to what he said was judicial activism by the state's high court. Musharraf has been tussling with the Supreme Court since at least March, when he removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, citing judicial misconduct.

The Supreme Court -- which reinstated Chaudhry in July in what many called a political blow to Musharraf -- was amid hearing arguments from opposition leaders who said that Musharraf's victory in the October elections should be overturned because Musharraf was not eligible to serve a third term while heading the country's military.

Khan said parliamentary elections slated for January have been postponed indefinitely, but Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said later no such decision had been made.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that Musharraf did not consult Washington before declaring the state of emergency, a move she called "highly regrettable." The U.S. told the Pakistani leadership before Saturday that it does not support "extra-constitutional means," she said. Video Watch why Rice says she is disappointed with Musharraf's actions »

"It is in the best interest of Pakistan and in the best interest of the Pakistani people for there to be a prompt return to a constitutional course, for there to be an affirmation that elections will be held for a new parliament, and for all parties to act with restraint in what is obviously a very difficult situation," she said.
Don't Miss

* Musharraf declares emergency
* PM: State of emergency indefinite
* Bhutto decries 'dictatorship'
* Pakistani police storm TV station

Later in the day, Rice said the U.S. would review its financial aid package to Pakistan, a key ally in the war on terror. She conceded the matter would be complicated because much of the aid goes to counterterrorism.

Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the 27-nation European Union, also implored Musharraf to keep the January elections on track. Solana told The Associated Press he realizes Pakistan is facing difficulties in its political and security situations, but "any deviation from the general democratic process cannot be a solution."

Solana, in a statement, urged Musharraf "to abide by the rule of law, notably to respect the boundaries of the constitution" and asked that political parties show "restraint to facilitate a quick return to normalcy."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also expressed concerns about the state of emergency, saying Pakistan's future "rests on harnessing the power of democracy and the rule of law to achieve the goals of stability, development and countering terrorism."

As part of the state of emergency, the Pakistani government has a list of about 1,500 opposition figures, mostly activists and lawyers to be rounded up, according to police sources and witnesses. Chaudhry is one of seven Supreme Court judges placed under house arrest after the court declared Musharraf's state of emergency illegal under the constitution.

Shortly after the court ruling, troops went to Chaudhry's office and told him he was fired, the judge's office said. Massive protests ensued after Chaudhry was removed from the bench earlier this year. See a timeline of events leading up to the state of emergency »

The head of Pakistan's human rights commission, Asma Jahangir, said she, too, was under house arrest and that Musharraf "has lost his marbles."

Khan, the information minister, said the house arrests are "a very temporary measure" and were targeting "people who have been causing law and order situations."

Pakistanis reacted to the country's turmoil Sunday with a mixture of anger and apathy, according to AP.

Said factory worker Faisal Sayed, "Pakistan is bad because of one person: Musharraf. He has ruined our country."

But day laborer Togul Khan, 38, had a more cynical outlook as he waited for work on an Islamabad street corner, AP reported.

"What's the point of talking about this?" he asked. "The politicians have lifted Pakistan into the sky and spun it round before bringing it crashing down to earth -- but nothing will change for us." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Saturday, November 3, 2007

‘What Pak has today is martial law’

Has General Pervez Musharraf dropped the mask that had made him a favourite of the West: a military ruler willing to live with a free media and a relatively freer judiciary?

The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan empowers only the President to promulgate Emergency under which certain powers of the provinces get transferred to the federal government. It also enables the ruling dispensation to extend the life of the national assembly by a year.

But for reasons best known to him, Musharraf has issued a provisional constitutional order in his capacity as the Chief of the Army Staff. Opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman points out that what Pakistan has today is de facto martial law. “If it were an Emergency, how could it mean suspension of the very Constitution under which it has been imposed?” wondered an Islamabad-based lawyer.

From initial reports, it is obvious that the brunt of the General’s move has been borne by the judiciary and the media. Private TV channels have been taken off air, troops have been deployed at the Supreme Court and Aitzaz Ahsan of the PPP who fought Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary’s case has been placed under arrest.

Ahsan is also the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

These steps, if taken under the so-called emergency powers, fly in the face of a 1998 Supreme Court judgement. On imposition of emergency after the 1998 nuclear tests in India and Pakistan that triggered sanctions against Islamabad, the Court had upheld the Government’s action barring the suspension of fundamental rights.

Against this backdrop, the clampdown on the press by the Musharraf regime only reinforces the impression that Pakistan could be under martial law the General had scrupulously avoided imposing all these years to distinguish himself from the likes of Zia-ul-Haq. In fact, MQM chief Altaf Hussain often cited this dissimilarity to justify his support of Musharraf.

By the same logic, this writer had once asked Asif Zardari whether he would describe Musharraf as a benign military ruler. In response Benazir Bhutto’s husband had said: “It is a charade to deny the democratic forces the kind of audience they always had in the West during military rule in Pakistan.’’

Ironically, the departure of Zardari’s spouse for Dubai earlier this week was the first indication of Musharraf contemplating suspension of return to democracy. There is indeed a flip side to Musharraf’s seemingly unpopular decision. Terrorist violence is on the rise and the morale of Pakistani troops abysmally low. The General desperately needed to show that he was fighting back the jehadis.

But the first impression is that of a blow being dealt to the forces of democracy.

Emergency rule for democracy - Musharraf

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said early on Sunday he imposed emergency rule to help complete the transition from military to civilian-led democracy, and appealed to the international community to be understanding.

Musharraf, whose emergency rule proclamation on Saturday cited rising militancy and a hostile judiciary, said Pakistan needed time to reach the level of democracy enjoyed by the West.

"Please do not expect or demand your level of democracy which you learned over a number of centuries. Please give us time," he said in a pre-recorded televised address.

Proclamation of Emergency Issued by Gen. Pervez Musharraf

Following is the text of the Proclamation of Emergency declared by General Pervez Musharraf on Saturday, as released by The Associated Press of Pakistan, a state-run news agency.

WHEREAS there is visible ascendancy in the activities of extremists and incidents of terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, IED explosions, rocket firing and bomb explosions and the banding together of some militant groups have taken such activities to an unprecedented level of violent intensity posing a grave threat to the life and property of the citizens of Pakistan;

WHEREAS there has also been a spate of attacks on State infrastructure and on law enforcement agencies;

WHEREAS some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism thereby weakening the Government and the nation’s resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace;

WHEREAS there has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular;

WHEREAS constant interference in executive functions, including but not limited to the control of terrorist activity, economic policy, price controls, downsizing of corporations and urban planning, has weakened the writ of the government; the police force has been completely demoralized and is fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism and Intelligence Agencies have been thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists;

WHEREAS some hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated were ordered to be released. The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life and property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies subdued;

WHEREAS some judges by overstepping the limits of judicial authority have taken over the executive and legislative functions;

WHEREAS the Government is committed to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and holds the superior judiciary in high esteem, it is nonetheless of paramount importance that the Honourable Judges confine the scope of their activity to the judicial function and not assume charge of administration;

WHEREAS an important Constitutional institution, the Supreme Judicial Council, has been made entirely irrelevant and non est by a recent order and judges have, thus, made themselves immune from inquiry into their conduct and put themselves beyond accountability;

WHEREAS the humiliating treatment meted to government officials by some members of the judiciary on a routine basis during court proceedings has demoralized the civil bureaucracy and senior government functionaries, to avoid being harassed, prefer inaction;

WHEREAS the law and order situation in the country as well as the economy have been adversely affected and trichotomy of powers eroded;

WHEREAS a situation has thus arisen where the Government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the Constitution and as the Constitution provides no solution for this situation, there is no way out except through emergent and extraordinary measures;

AND WHEREAS the situation has been reviewed in meetings with the Prime Minister, Governors of all four Provinces, and with Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chiefs of the Armed Forces, Vice-Chief of Army Staff and Corps Commanders of the Pakistan Army;

NOW, THEREFORE, in pursuance of the deliberations and decisions of the said meetings, I General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff, proclaim Emergency throughout Pakistan.

2. I hereby order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance.

3. This Proclamation shall come into force at once.