On the back foot over a threat to impose a state of emergency in the wake of a confrontation with the judiciary, the Pakistani government now says no declaration of intent was implied.
"This does not mean that he has given an intent," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi said in the National Assembly on Monday after angry opposition members sought a clarification on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's remarks on the issue.
The opposition also sought a debate on Aziz's remarks at a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday. It said he had tried to fish in the troubled waters created by President Pervez Musharraf's controversial action of suspending Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry with the intent of warning civil society from protesting against the move.
Niazi sought to downplay the remarks, saying they were only "cursory" and did not imply that conditions existed to justify the proclamation of an emergency, media reported on Tuesday.
The president can declare a state of emergency under articles 232 and 233 of the constitution on account of war or internal disturbance and suspend certain fundamental rights.
Niazi's clarification came after Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians spoke of the "dark times" in the country and apprehended the government could declare an emergency in response to the massive reception accorded to the chief justice during his journey from Islamabad to Lahore on Saturday and Sunday.
According to Farid Piracha of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) religious alliance, if the government saw an "internal disturbance" due to its action against the chief justice "then it should think who had blown the bugle".
Saad Rafiq of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz said Aziz's remarks constituted "a threat to the civil society" even as the nation was "in a state of shock" after Musharraf's move against Chaudhry.
In a related development, the National Assembly is to consider several opposition adjournment motions seeking a debate on the blockage of live telecasts of some private television channels in Sindh during the chief justice's trip and his speech at the bar association in Lahore Sunday morning.
Speaker Amir Hussain gave the ruling after a token walkout by opposition members Monday against the enforced media blackout, holding ruling coalition ally Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) responsible.