The Wall Street Journal (Online)
November 3, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan on Saturday, suspending the constitution, replacing the chief justice before a crucial Supreme Court ruling on his future as president, and cutting communications in the capital.
Pakistan’s main opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, flew back to the country from Dubai and was sitting in an airplane at Karachi’s airport, waiting to see if she would be arrested or deported, a spokesman said. Dozens of paramilitary troops surrounded her house.
Seven of the 18 Supreme Court judges immediately condemned the emergency, which suspended the current constitution.
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan on Saturday, suspending the constitution, replacing the chief justice before a crucial Supreme Court ruling on his future as president, and cutting communications in the capital. Paramilitary troops and police swarmed the capital.
The opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was flying from Dubai on Saturday. Her spokesman in London said she was already sitting in a plane at Karachi airport, waiting to see if she would be arrested or deported. Another party official said her flight was due to arrive later Saturday.
Seven of the 17 Supreme Court judges immediately rejected the emergency, which suspended the current constitution. Police blocked entry to the Supreme Court building and later took the deposed chief justice and other judges away in a convoy, witnesses said.
The government halted all television transmissions in major cities other than state-controlled Pakistan TV. Telephone service in the capital, Islamabad, was cut.
A copy of the emergency order obtained by The Associated Press justified the declaration on the grounds that “some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive” and “weakening the government’s resolve” to fight terrorism.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged restraint on all sides and a swift return to democracy in Pakistan.
The United States “does not support extraconstitutional measures,” Rice said from Turkey, where she was participating in a conference with Iraq’s neighbors.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and has been a close ally of the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has struggled to contain spreading Islamic militancy that has centered along the Afghan border and spread to the capital and beyond.
Pakistanis have increasingly turned against the government of Musharraf, who failed earlier this year to oust Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — the chief justice replaced Saturday.
Rice said that to her knowledge, U.S. officials had yet to hear directly from Musharraf after his declaration.
“Whatever happens we will be urging a quick return to civilian rule” Rice told reporters traveling with her, and a “return to constitutional order and the commitment to free and fair elections.”
Crucial parliamentary elections meant to restore civilian rule are due by January. Musharraf himself was overwhelmingly re-elected last month by the current parliament, dominated by his ruling party, but the vote was challenged. The Supreme Court had been expected to rule imminently on whether he could run for president while still serving as army chief.
Bhutto, seen by many supporters as key to a possible return to democracy, went to Dubai after being targetted by assassins in Pakistan last month. Suicide bombers attacked her homecoming parade after eight years in exile, killing more than 140 people.
She was sitting on a plane at Karachi airport Saturday after returning from Dubai, said Wajid Hasan, a spokesman.
“She is waiting to see if she is going to be arrested or deported,” Hasan said from London, adding that he had spoken to the former Pakistani prime minister by telephone while her plane was on the tarmac in Karachi.
But Fahmida Mirza, an information secretary for her Pakistan People’s Party, said Bhutto had not yet arrived. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained.
Musharraf’s order allows courts to function but suspends some fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, including freedom of speech. It also allows authorities to detain people without informing them of the charges.
Military vehicles patrolled and troops blocked roads in the administrative heart of the capital. Paramilitary troops behind rolled barbed wire blocked access to an official compound housing lawmakers — barring even wives, children and even a ruling party senator from entering.
In Karachi, about 100 police and paramilitary troops surrounded Bhutto’s house and a bomb disposal squad searched the building, witnesses said.
There were reports of gunfire in several districts of the city, but it appeared to be aerial firing, police said.
The emergency was expected to be followed by arrests of lawyers and other perceived opponents of the government, including civil society activists and possibly even members of the judiciary itself, a ruling party lawmaker said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Private Geo TV reported the arrest of the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan — a lawyer for Chaudhry in the case that led to his reinstatement in July.
With telephone lines cut, it was not possible to contact government spokesmen for confirmation.
Chaudhry and other judges drove out of the court building in a convoy of black cars over two hours after the emergency was declared, under police escort. They were being shifted to their official residences nearby. Officers stopped reporters from approaching.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deported in September as he tried to return from exile, condemned the emergency and said Musharraf should resign. He also urged the people of Pakistan to rise against Musharraf.
“If you don’t do it today, it will too late then,” he told Geo TV from Saudi Arabia.