ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 3 — The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, suspending the country’s Constitution, blacking out all independent television news reports and filling the streets of the capital with police officers and soldiers.
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, civilian political parties and hard-line Islamists. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was expected to rule within days on the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election last month as the country’s president, which opposition groups have said was improper.
The emergency declaration was in direct defiance of repeated calls this week from senior American officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not to do so. A day earlier, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, Admiral William J. Fallon, told General Musharraf and his top generals in a meeting here that declaring emergency rule would jeopardize the extensive American financial support for the Pakistani military.
Ms. Rice personally intervened twice in the past four months to try to keep General Musharraf from imposing emergency rule, telephoning him at 2 a.m. Pakistani time in August. On Saturday, while traveling to Turkey for an Iraq security conference, she reinforced that message, saying, “I think it would be quite obvious that the United States wouldn’t be supportive of extra-constitutional means."
Soon after independent television stations went blank in the capital, just after 5 p.m., dozens of police forces surrounded the Supreme Court building, with justices still inside, as well as the chief justice’s home. The justices were ordered to sign a “provisional constitutional order” enabling the emergency decree, according to Western diplomats, with the government leaving implicit that any justices failing to do so would be dismissed.
At least 6 of the court’s 11 justices gathered in the court and rejected the order, according to an aide to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. 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 on Monday of nationwide strikes and protests.
Before being detained, he accused General Musharraf of “criminal flouting of the Constitution,” adding that “the people and the lawyers cannot be suspended.”
General Musharraf was expected to speak on national television late on Saturday evening. Pakistani government officials said Friday that emergency rule could be justified because of clashes in the past week between security forces and Islamic militants in the Swat Valley, in the North-West Frontier Province, and because of the increasing number of suicide attacks against military and police installations.
As of 9 p.m., Chief Justice Chaudhry and the other justices had gone to their homes, surrounded by police and with the phone lines cut, witnesses and officials said.
Analysts said the emergency-rule decree in effect was the declaring of martial law, because there were no constitutional provisions allowing for such an order. “This is the imposition of real military rule, because there is no Constitution and Pakistan is being run under provisional constitutional order issued by Musharraf as the army chief, not as the president of Pakistan,” 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 has been the focal point of the opposition to General Musharraf since the president fired him from the post last Boosted by support from lawyers, judges and a wide public following, Mr. Chaudhry led a street-style political campaign against his summary firing that helped fuel the growing popular sentiment against General Musharraf.
The Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Chaudhry this summer, and in September the Supreme Court ruled in favor of General Musharraf, saying he could run for re-election while still in uniform.
But the focus was again on Mr. Chaudhry this week as the deadline drew closer for a decision on the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election on Oct. 6 by the national Parliament and four provincial assemblies.
Rumors were rife in Islamabad, the capital, all week that the court might decide against the president or give a muddied verdict that would leave his position as president unclear.
This evening, several lawyers and journalists said they believed that the opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, left Pakistan on Thursday for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates after realizing that General Musharraf was planning some form of martial law.
Aides to Ms. Bhutto said she planned to fly back to Pakistan on Wednesday evening, immediately after hearing the emergency declaration was made. Members of her political party condemned the emergency order.
Ms. Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan in mid-October under an arrangement brokered by the United States and Britain, warned the government on Wednesday that she was opposed to emergency rule. “If emergency is imposed, people will come out and resist it," she said.
She returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18 for the first time in eight years on the understanding that she would take part in elections expected early next year. The Bush administration hoped that Ms. Bhutto would bring a democratic face to Pakistan even as it continued under the rule of General Musharraf, who has pledged to give up his military post after being sworn in for another presidential term on Nov. 15.