Sunday, November 4, 2007

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.

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