Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf Saturday imposed a state of emergency ahead of a key Supreme Court ruling on the validity of his re-election and a recent surge in Islamist militancy.
Military trucks patrolled the streets as the general's government shut down the transmission of private media channels and cut telephone services in the capital Islamabad. Eight Supreme Court judges rejected the emergency as unconstitutional, before Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry was sacked and taken away by the military to an unknown location, reports emerging from the country said.
"The chief of army staff has proclaimed a state of emergency and issued a provisional constitutional order," state-run Pakistan TV said. A Supreme Court bench was scheduled to rule on Tuesday on the legality of Musharraf's re-election as president. He'd won the elections by a majority last month.
The move comes on the heels of a wave of Islamist militancy in the country that has claimed hundreds of lives in the last few weeks. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan was marked by terrorist violence, which claimed 139 lives. Bhutto, who had then left the country for Dubai, is now returning over the weekend and was quoted as calling the emergency "disastrous."
Exiled former prime minister Nawaz 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.
Musharraf addresses the nation later Saturday, and Pakistani citizens are anxiously waiting to hear him. "It's very quiet on the streets of Karachi," said Mahim Rehman, head of research at DLA Capital in the city. "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," she said.
The president's move is likely to derail general elections that were planned for January. Musharraf was under pressure from the international community to restore democracy through nationwide elections. He came to power in a bloodless military coup in October 1999, deposing Sharif's government.
International reactions to the move were swift. India's external affairs ministry issued a statement saying: "We regret the difficult times that Pakistan is passing through. We trust that conditions of normalcy will soon return, permitting Pakistan's transition to stability and democracy to continue."
Television reports quoted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as saying: "It's highly regrettable Pakistan's president has declared a state of martial law. 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.