Pakistan mulls state of emergency

Embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was set to decide on Thursday whether to impose emergency rule due to “external and internal threats”, a government spokesperson said.

Official sources said late on Wednesday they believed that a proclamation of a state of emergency was likely following the meeting later on Thursday at the president’s camp outside the capital, Islamabad.

“The president will chair a meeting to decide about a state of emergency in the country,” said one source, who asked not to be named.

Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azeem confirmed the measure had been discussed and could not be ruled out as Musharraf battles an upsurge in militant violence in the volatile tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

“I cannot confirm whether a decision has been taken or not,” Azeem said late on Wednesday.

The president had been considering imposing emergency rule since Tuesday, when he met with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and other senior aides, the officials sources told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

Among concerns raised at that meeting were the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas, which have become staging posts for Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, and threats by US officials and presidential hopefuls to take unilateral military action against the militant bases, the sources said.

The possibility that Musharraf will declare an emergency coincides with his decision, announced on Wednesday, not to attend a key three-day tribal council in Kabul on Thursday, aimed at ending Taliban and al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism.

Musharraf told Afghan President Hamid Karzai he could not attend due to “engagements in the capital”, opting to send Aziz in his place.

“People are seriously worried about external threats to Pakistan,” Azeem said, adding that lawmakers had termed the situation “a very serious matter” during a debate in Parliament.

Musharraf has been angered by accusations from Washington that Pakistan has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and a regrouped Taliban.

Azeem said the security situation was deteriorating in North West Frontier Province—ruled by an alliance of Islamic parties—and that military operations in the border areas were resulting in “loss of precious lives”.

“Keeping in mind the prevailing situation, one cannot rule out the possibility that the provision of the Constitution relating to imposition of emergency be issued,” he said.

An emergency proclamation would limit the role of the judiciary, curtail civil liberties, restricting freedom of movement, association and expression.

The News newspaper on Thursday quoted government officials as saying a state of emergency was a “lesser evil” than martial law, though elections due later this year could be delayed as emergency rule would extend the tenure of the current Parliament by 12 months.

Other media quoted official sources as saying that “rumours” of emergency rule were baseless.

Rumblings about a state of emergency also came as Pakistan’s senior Judge, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was due to hear a petition from exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, an arch-rival of Musharraf, on his possible return home.

Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a coup in 1999. Sharif was sentenced to life in prison on tax evasion and treason charges but was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia the following year.

Azeem told a private television station on Thursday that any declaration of a state of emergency would have nothing to do with the Sharif case.

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned Musharraf’s suspension of Chaudhry, in a major political blow to the military ruler.—AFP