Media slams Musharraf's 'coup'
Musharraf tries to stifle outcry over emergency rule
Police detained Pakistani opposition figures and lawyers on Sunday as military ruler President Pervez Musharraf tried to stifle the outcry over the imposition of emergency powers.
The United States and other Western allies condemned General Musharraf’s decision to announce emergency rule on Saturday.
Musharraf said he acted in response to rising Islamist militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan and what he called a paralysis of government by judicial interference.
Most Pakistanis and foreign diplomats believe his main motive was to prevent the Supreme Court invalidating his October 6 re-election by Parliament while still army chief.
Musharraf, in a midnight televised address, said the country was in grave danger of becoming destabilised.
“I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” he said, after purging the Supreme Court of judges opposed to him and rounding up lawyers.
The United States, which regards Musharraf as a crucial ally against al-Qaeda in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, had earlier urged Musharraf to avoid taking authoritarian measures.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who became a cause célÃ¨bre after Musharraf suspended him eight months ago and was reinstated in July, was fired after refusing to take a fresh oath following the suspension of the Constitution.
A lawyers’ movement that emerged at the vanguard of an anti-government campaign last March called for a countrywide strike on Monday to protest Musharraf’s move.
Pakistan’s English-language newspapers were unforgiving of the draconian measures that included a ban on any coverage “that defames, and brings into ridicule or disrepute the head of state” on pain of up to three years’ jail.
“General Musharraf’s second coup,” was Dawn‘s headline.
“It is martial law,” the Daily Times splashed across its front page.
“He has sent the country into a tailspin just to save his job,” the Nation said in an editorial.
There were no troops or large numbers of police on the streets of the capital, or the other main cities, Karachi, Lahore or Peshawar.
But barricades blocked the main boulevard leading to the presidency building in Islamabad.
A top leader of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party voiced defiance before police took him away in Multan, a major city in Punjab province.
“People will win. Generals will lose. They have to surrender,” Javed Hashmi told reporters on Sunday.
Musharraf, who came to power in a coup eight years ago, did not say how long the emergency would last, but said he still planned to move Pakistan to civilian-led democracy without saying when elections, which had been expected in January, would take place.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed on Sunday for restraint on all sides and said Musharraf must affirm that elections will take place.
“It is in the best interests of Pakistan and the Pakistani people for there to be a prompt return to the 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,” Rice told reporters during a visit to the Middle East.
Musharraf had been promising to quit the army and become a civilian leader if he was given a second five-year term, but uncertainty over the court’s decision had left the country in suspense and stock markets fell last week amid the uncertainty.
“Musharraf has done this to suppress the Supreme Court which was becoming increasingly hostile to him,” said Tanvir Butt, a 60-year-old pharmacist in Multan.
“He should have a respect for the Constitution.
He should not consider it just a piece of paper.”
The United States, which has given its ally $10-billion mostly to support the war on terrorism in the past 5 years, called the measure “very disappointing”.
Pakistan’s internal security has deteriorated sharply in recent months with a wave of suicide attacks, including an assassination attempt on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last month that killed 139 people.
In July, Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement based there.
At least 105 people were killed in the raid and a wave of deadly militant attacks and suicide bombings followed in which more than 800 people have been killed.
The United States had been quietly encouraging Musharraf to forge a post-election partnership with Bhutto to fight Islamist forces influence rapidly creeping in from the volatile north-west.
Bhutto flew back to Pakistan on Saturday from a brief visit to Dubai and accused Musharraf of imposing “mini-martial law” Another leading opposition figure, former cricket captain Imran Khan, was placed under house arrest.
Pakistan Television said that the Cabinet, national and provincial assemblies would continue to function and that Abdul Hameed Dogar had been appointed as new Chief Justice.
Bhutto said she believed emergency rule was designed to delay elections by “at least one to two years”.
But Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters the emergency had no immediate impact on US military cooperation.
Britain said it was “gravely concerned” by the declaration of emergency rule while India urged a return to democracy. - Reuters