Islamabad – Pakistan police baton-charged lawyers protesting against President Pervez Musharraf’s emergency rule and continued to detain his opponents on Monday, despite sharp criticism from ally Washington of the clampdown.
Declaring an emergency on Saturday, General Musharraf cited spiraling militancy and hostile judges to justify his action and imposed reporting curbs on the media in a bid to stop outrage spilling onto the streets.
Police baton-charged and scuffled with dozens of lawyers protesting outside the High Court in the economic capital, Karachi, lawyers said. One officer said up to 30 lawyers had initially been detained. Several others were detained later.
“We are not scared of these arrests. We will continue our fight, come what may,” Abdul Hafeez, a Karachi lawyer, told Reuters as police shoved him into a car.
The Karachi Bar Association says its president, Iftikhar Javed Qazi, was among those arrested.
The arrests came after a main Islamist opposition party, Jamaat-e-Islami, said authorities detained 600-700 of its supporters in southern and central provinces overnight.
Authorities had already arrested 400-500 political opponents and opposition lawyers as a “preventive” measure.
Pakistan shares fell around 2.6 percent in early Monday trading, compounding losses incurred last week as talk of impending emergency rule swirled.
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, has also suspended the constitution.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced disappointment with Musharraf in terms seldom heard before from U.S. officials more accustomed to praising the Pakistani leader’s support in the battle against al Qaeda.
“The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf,” Rice said, urging Pakistan to rejoin the road to democracy and warning that U.S. aid to its ally was under review.
Washington has given Islamabad around $10 billion over the last five years.
More Protests Planned
Despite the detentions, a lawyers’ movement that led the fight against Musharraf when he tried to sack the country’s top judge earlier this year, was planning protests in front of courts in most major cities.
Lawyers, journalists, opposition politicians, and ordinary Pakistanis said they believed Musharraf’s main motive in declaring emergency rule was to pre-empt the Supreme Court invalidating his re-election as president last month.
“Many people in Pakistan believe that it has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and it has everything to do with stopping a court verdict that was coming against him,” former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said on Sunday.
The Court had been due to reconvene on Monday to determine Musharraf’s right to have stood for re-election while still army chief. But most judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, have been sacked. He has been replaced by a Musharraf loyalist.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan’s security has deteriorated sharply since July, when commandos stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement.
Since then nearly 800 people have been killed in militant-linked violence, which has included more than 23 suicide attacks.
Morale in the security forces is low.
On Sunday, a Pakistani Taliban group freed 211 soldiers humiliatingly captured on August 30. They were exchanged for 25 prisoners held by the authorities, intelligence officials said.
While the United States wants Pakistan to go ahead with elections, which had been due in January, it does not want to jeopardize counter-terrorism efforts.
Prime Minister Aziz said that Pakistan was committed to holding elections, but he could not say when. He noted that under the terms of an emergency, parliament’s term, due to expire this month, could be extended for a year.
Nawaz Sharif, the exiled prime minister Musharraf deposed in 1999, said he should quit for the sake of the country.
But Humayun Ansari, a 54-year-old business professor in Karachi, said that might make the situation even worse.
“That would be an invitation for real, real trouble,” Ansari said.
What Bhutto, who heads the largest opposition party, does next could be crucial.
Musharraf allowed Bhutto back from eight years of self-imposed exile last month by granting her immunity against prosecution in old corruption cases.
Before Musharraf proclaimed emergency rule there had been talk that the two could share power after the elections, so long as he quit the army.
Pakistan Rounds Up Musharraf’s Political Foes
Islamabad, Pakistan – The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, making no concessions a day after seizing emergency powers, rounded up leading opposition figures and said Sunday that parliamentary elections could be delayed for as long as a year.
Security forces were reported to have detained about 500 opposition party figures, lawyers and human rights advocates on Sunday, and about a dozen privately owned television news stations remained off the air. International broadcasters, including the BBC and CNN, were also cut off.
The crackdown, announced late Saturday night after General Musharraf suspended the Constitution, was clearly aimed at preventing public demonstrations that political parties and lawyers were organizing for Monday.
“They are showing zero tolerance for protest,” said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and a former minister in the Musharraf government.
In Islamabad, police forces continued to block the Parliament and Supreme Court buildings. But the day was mostly quiet, there was no formal curfew, and most people went about their business as usual. Several small protests were broken up, including one involving two dozen people who scuffled with the police.
Police officers armed with tear gas broke up a meeting at the headquarters of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission in Lahore and took dozens of people away in police vans, including elderly women, schoolteachers and about 20 lawyers, according to people at the meeting. In all, about 80 lawyers were detained, and many others who faced arrest warrants remained in hiding, according to members of a nationwide lawyer’s lobby that has grown increasingly influential as an anti-Musharraf voice.
The head of the human rights commission, and one of Pakistan’s most prominent democratic figures, Asma Jahangir, was placed under house arrest on Saturday night. Among others arrested were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the political party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and workers of the political party of the opposition leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Ms. Bhutto remained in her Karachi home on Sunday.
Despite repeated warnings by the United States and other Western nations over the past several days, the Musharraf government also appeared set to put off parliamentary elections that had been scheduled for January. At a news conference on Sunday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that the government was holding internal discussions on the future of the elections. “We are still deliberating,” he said. “In an emergency the Parliament could give itself one year.”
As the Bush administration has seen General Musharraf, one of its closest allies in fighting terrorism, become increasingly unpopular with the Pakistani public in the past several months, American officials have urged the general to abandon his military post and hold fair elections to bolster his standing. But even though he promised from time to time to step down as Pakistan’s military leader while remaining as president, he never did so.
His decision to suspend the Constitution and fire the Supreme Court was taken days before the court was due to decide whether his re-election on Oct. 6 was valid. A close aide to General Musharraf said the Pakistani leader had decided to declare an emergency when he was told last week by a Supreme Court justice that the court would rule within days that he was ineligible to continue serving as president. The ruling would have been unanimous, according to the aide.
A government spokesman, Tariq Azim Khan, when asked Sunday why 500 people had been arrested, said the arrests were “preventive measures” because the people presented “a threat to future law and order.”
Ms. Bhutto returned to Karachi from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates hours after emergency rule was imposed. Leaders of her party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, had said she would fly to Islamabad on Sunday to hold talks with other opposition parties on how to proceed. But Ms. Bhutto did not show up here.
In interviews with foreign broadcast outlets, she called on the Musharraf government to lift what she called “martial law” and to hold elections.
Sympathizers of Ms. Bhutto, who came back to Pakistan with the backing of the United States and the specific mandate of bringing a democratic face to Pakistan, said her options for influencing the situation were limited.
Ms. Bhutto’s potential to rally large numbers of demonstrators, her most potent weapon, was now in severe trouble, said Najem Sethi, the editor in chief of The Daily Times. Organizing large protests under emergency rule, and after the bomb attack on her arrival procession Oct. 18 that killed 140 people, would be very difficult for her, he said.
“She will be very critical,” Mr. 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 election as soon as possible.” Enver Baig, a senior leader of her party, said that the group’s strategy in the immediate future would be announced Monday.
Among the lawyers arrested was the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, who has opposed General Musharraf in legal arguments before the Supreme Court. Mr. Ahsan led the protests last spring over the firing of the Supreme Court Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
A legal colleague of Mr. Ahsan’s, Ayesha Tammy Haq, waited outside the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital, to see Mr. Ahsan on Sunday. “If you want to take the country away from Talibanization, these are the people who can do it, the secular middle class,” Ms. Haq said.
One of General Musharraf’s main justifications for suspending the Constitution and firing the members of the Supreme Court was the need to combat extremists sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In his address, he blamed the Supreme Court for hampering the government’s antiterror efforts by releasing terror suspects.
Even though the government was doing all it could to prevent public demonstrations by the legal profession, lawyers said they had other strategies to undermine the emergency rule.
An effort would be made to persuade lawyers not to appear before any judges who had agreed to be sworn in as judges under the emergency decree, said Mr. Minallah, the lawyer and former government minister.
Further, two thirds of the judges in the high courts had resigned or were not invited to be sworn in again under the emergency laws, said Feisal Naqvi, a lawyer who was at the raided meeting. Only 5 of the Supreme Court’s 17 judges agreed to take a new oath of office on Sunday morning, Mr. Naqvi said.
At the government news conference in Islamabad, Prime Minister Aziz spoke further about controls on the news media that were reported Saturday night. Broadcasters had said that the government had issued orders that journalists who brought “ridicule or disrepute” to General Musharraf and other officials could face up to three years in prison. On Sunday, Mr. Aziz said that the government would meet with television broadcasters to work out a “code of conduct.”
Pakistani journalists, proud of the dozen or so privately owned news channels that have flourished in the last three years, said Sunday they would refuse to knuckle under. “We will resist by not institutionally accepting this,” said Talat Hussein, the director of news and current affairs at Aaj TV.
After a meeting of the Federal Union of Journalists here, the president of the Islamabad Press Club, Afzal Butt, said the press would boycott government functions and briefings on Monday.
Earlier, the director of the Aaj channel, Wamiq Zuberi, said a magistrate accompanied by five buses of gun-toting police officers showed up at the studios on Saturday night and tried to confiscate an outdoor broadcasting van. The magistrate did not have a warrant and the workers at the studio stood their ground, forcing the officials to leave empty-handed, Mr. Zuberi said.
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TPMtv: The Devil You Know
Over the weekend President Pervez Musharraf declared a State of Emergency in Pakistan, instituting martial law, suspending the constitution, and firing the chief justice of the supreme court. Police have also begun rounding up scores of lawyers, judges, and activists, and the state has taken control of many of the private television stations and raided newspaper offices. This puts the Bush administration in a nearly impossible bind: oppose a Musharraf dictatorship or continue to support a leader who has been one of America’s lone allies in the region in waging the war on terror. All this under the specter of a nuclear power teetering on the brink of failed statehood.
Added: November 05, 2007