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Hundreds held, media muzzled, polls may be delayed

Hundreds of opposition activists were picked up by General Pervez Musharraf’s regime in Pakistan on Sunday, a day after the army seized complete power by sacking the chief justice and suspending key parts of the country’s Constitution.

world Updated: Nov 05, 2007 20:56 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Hundreds of opposition activists were picked up by General Pervez Musharraf’s regime in Pakistan on Sunday, a day after the army seized complete power by sacking the chief justice and suspending key parts of the country’s Constitution.

Among those picked were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif; cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Hamid Gul, former ISI chief.

“Kindly understand the criticality of the situation in Pakistan... Inaction at this moment is suicidal for Pakistan,” Musharraf said in a late Saturday night address to the nation justifying his decision to impose emergency.

US to review aid

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Washington would have to "review aid" to Pakistan following the emergency declaration.

Imran ‘escapes’

Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader Imran Khan escaped from his home in Lahore on Sunday hours after being put under house arrest, reported Reuters.

Cases nullified

The new Chief Justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar, cancelled all cases, including the petitions challenging Musharraf’s re-election in uniform.

BSF steps up vigil

The Government of India has asked BSF to step up vigil along the border to avert any spill-off effect like militants trying to sneak into the country.

“I suspect that Pakistan’s sovereignty is in danger unless timely action is taken,” he said, adding that extremists are roaming around freely in the country, and they are not scared of law-enforcement agencies.

Seven of the 17 Supreme Court judges, meanwhile, have rejected the provisional constitution order, and only five agreed to take the oath of office under the new provisional arrangements.

Addressing the press on Sunday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who continues in office under the martial law-type arrangements, said Parliament was entitled to delay elections for a year under a state of emergency, but added that the government had not yet made a decision. “There have been 400 to 500 preventive arrests in the country,” Aziz confirmed, revealing the extent of the crackdown.

Most observers have termed the measures taken by Musharraf as martial law. “There is no other name for it. It is a martial law that has been imposed by an army chief,” former chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah said. Already, lawyers have announced they will observe a strike against the move on Monday.

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who heads the country’s largest political party, has kept her cards close to her chest. After rushing back from Dubai where she had gone on a private visit, Bhutto told reporters in Karachi, “This is not an emergency. This is martial law. It is extra-constitutional and illegal.”

Clearly, the country’s politicians are weighing their options.

Bhutto and other leading politicians have hinted at an alliance under which they will challenge the government's move.

Curbs on the media have been made more stringent. Pakistani police raided the offices of a private television channel here on early Sunday and attempted to confiscate broadcasting equipment, a senior producer said.

He said the police wanted to impound a van which is used to broadcast live coverage.

<b1>“They have been able to hack into our service, we are living under dictatorship. We strongly condemn the police action,” he added. The media order imposed by Musharraf earlier gave the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority the power to confiscate equipment belonging to violators and to seize their premises for 30 days.

Majlis Muttahid-e-Amal (MMA) chief and Amir Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) on Sunday called for nationwide protests against Musharraf's decision.

“People will now come on the street and will throw out the military dictator,” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed.

Qazi Ahmed made the call while addressing a congregation of 20,000 people near Lahore.

But Musharraf's allies have tried to defend his move. Minister Babar Ghauri, associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), said the Supreme Court's “mala fide intention” was evident in President Musharraf's case and a decision in the case was being delayed.

Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum clarified on Sunday that all the institutions including legislative assemblies were in place and “only the fundamental rights have been suspended” .

Analysts say that Musharraf's bid to cling to power is set to backfire badly and may worsen the internal situation in the country. They said Musharraf’s main concern was to purge the Supreme Court of anti-government judges ahead of a ruling on the legality of his victory in a controversial October 6 presidential election.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a return to democracy, as the American embassy urged citizens in Pakistan to remain at home and defer all nonessential travel.

But Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the emergency declaration “does not impact our military support” for Pakistan or its efforts in the war on terror.