Pakistan crackdown widens as Musharraf insists emergency rule needed to fight terrorism
Police suppress lawyers' protests, shut down press, as reports suggest over 1,500 opposition activists have been detained.
Cairo — Since suspending his country's Constitution over the weekend, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has moved quickly to arrest opposition activists and control the press, nudging the country closer to a full-fledged dictatorship.
The Associated Press reports that 1,500 activists have been arrested since the president gave himself sweeping powers on Saturday, in a move that analysts said appeared designed to preempt a Supreme Court ruling that could have prevented him from being reelected president.
Legions of baton-wielding police clashed with lawyers to squash protests against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Monday, while international pressure mounted against the imposition of emergency powers.
Independent TV news networks remained off the air Monday. Police raided a printing press in Karachi belonging to Pakistan's largest media group, blocking publication of its Urdu-language evening newspaper, Awam, or People, Jang Group managing director Shahrukh Hassan said from the scene.
Musharraf briefed foreign ambassadors Monday, saying the "superior judiciary paralyzed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism," state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
While stopping short of a complete condemnation, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged President Musharraf to quickly restore the rule of law to Pakistan, Reuters reports. Both the US and Britain have urged the country to hold elections scheduled for January.
"We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections," Rice told a news conference during a visit to the West Bank.
The United States has put future aid to Pakistan under review, having provided $10 billion in the past five years.
"Pakistan is a country of great strategic importance to the United States and a key partner in the war on terror. However, the actions of the past 72 hours have been disturbing," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on a visit to China as the Pentagon postponed defense talks with Pakistan due this week.
In its Nov. 4 issue, The Dawn, Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper, carried a roundup of those detained in a front page article, which includes opposition political party heads and a former director of the ISI, Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency.
That issue also carried an article in which Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz hinted that elections could be delayed for one year, instead of being held in January as the US has been urging.
He was non-committal about how long the emergency would continue and just said that it would last for "as long as it was an utmost necessity".
Parliament was empowered, he said, to delay elections for a year under a state of emergency.
The news conference in the Prime Minister's House was held under the glaring lights of a host of television cameras, though the prime minister and his aides sitting with him were aware that barring the state-run Pakistan Television, none of the local or international news channels could be viewed in the country because of the government ban on private TV channels.
There is no online edition for the Dawn for Nov. 5, and it appears the paper has been prevented from publishing.
In neighbor and frequent rival India, The Times of India called Musharraf's act over the weekend a "coup" and chided the US for having backed his initial seizure of power in 1999, arguing that military rulers are not the answer to Islamist violence.
General Musharraf, by declaring an emergency, has pulled off a repeat of his 1999 coup. The first time, though, he struck against an overwhelmingly unpopular Nawaz Sharif and could carry out his coup without much opposition. Events have undergone a full cycle this time. Sharif's past unpopularity is Musharraf's present burden, while the army's image and morale have plummeted. Pakistan has slipped further into anarchy than it had in 1999.
Washington has stopped short of condemning the emergency, with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice not going beyond "highly regrettable". But it needs to consider what it has bought into (being) by aiding Musharraf. Any effort to stem the jehadi upsurge must have a political side as well, which is why stable democratic rule is so essential in Pakistan. And an emergency imposed by a discredited administration is not going to bring it about. It could, instead, provide a further fillip to Talibanisation. New Delhi needs to watch carefully, not least to prevent Pakistan's turmoil from spilling over its borders into India.
Writing in Britain's Guardian newspaper, Peter Preston says that while the involvement of the US and other outside powers in Pakistan have weakened efforts to establish democratic institutions, most of the blame lies with the dominant role the military plays in the country's politics, and the failure of civilian leaders to reform the state in their brief times in power.
Pakistan's seemingly eternal quest for a settled democracy has to go on. But not, alas, in blind faith. Maybe Ms Benazir Bhutto, recalled from exile after much footsy with Musharraf, is freedom's catalyst at last, maybe not. For the first difficulty here is that everyone, including supreme court judges, carries the taint of the past with them. And the second difficulty is that oscillation as usual, where a politician takes over from a military dictator for a year or three, won't operate now because a disgraced army can't slink back to barracks. It has to stay out there and try to hold the ring.
If you're a Pakistani writer at this point you'll pause now to condemn western meddling, the state department puppeteering that has brought things to this pitch. Fair enough: but not quite enough. Of course, the cold war and Afghanistan inflicted terrible damage. Of course, crass outside manipulation has become a way of life. But don't blame the west entirely for Pakistan's failure, almost from day one, to establish a democratic tradition; for its personal feuds, fulminations, corruptions and crippling birth rate
The Daily Telegraph of Britain argues that Musharraf should no longer receive Western backing and that past US and British support for his regime, usually explained away as necessary in the fight against Al Qaeda and aligned groups, has in fact strengthened extremists.
Our support for Gen Musharraf may turn out to have been self-defeating. By lining up with a dictator, we give his opponents every reason to resent us, and vindicate the constant anti-Western plaint of "double standards". And for what?
Gen Musharraf is as threatened by the terrorists as we are, but he has been a far from perfect ally: our forces in Afghanistan constantly complain about the ease with which the Taliban can operate from the Pakistani side of the frontier.
If … we continue to support Musharraf on the basis that he is the only alternative to the fundamentalists, we will eventually make that ludicrous contention come true. Once again, our Foreign Office, like the US State Department, is over-emphasising its investment in a regime that just happens to be there.
In a commentary piece for CNN.com, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned to the country after a power-sharing deal with the president, reiterates her suspicions that elements in the administration are targeting her. A bomb attack at her homecoming rally Oct. 19 left over 130 people dead and 250 wounded. She stopped short of accusing Musharraf but called on him to restore democratic rule.
The sham investigation of the October 19 massacre and the attempt by the ruling party to politically capitalize on this catastrophe are discomforting, but do not suggest any direct involvement by General Pervez Musharraf.