Hundreds detained under emergency rule in Pakistan

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pervez Musharraf in 2004.
Image: Antônio Cruz/ABr.

Hundreds of people were rounded up by security forces in Pakistan, one day after Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule, effectively martial law. Scores of opposition figures were among those detained.

Javed Hashmi, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) party, the party of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was arrested. "Musharraf's days are numbered. The time has come to end the political role of the army," he told reporters in Multan before being taken away by police. Nawaz Sharif said to an Indian news channel: "We have not witnessed such a grave situation in the 60 years of Pakistan's history."

Also arrested were pro-democracy attorney, Munir Malik, and the leader of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jehangir. Both have been involved in protests against Musharraf in past years. Troops also arrested the staff of the Commission and began to close off and surround government buildings.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned home, addressed supporters in Karachi. "This is a situation worse than an emergency. The people of Pakistan will not accept this," Bhutto said.

On Saturday, Musharraf laid out his reasons for the emergency rule. "Please do not expect or demand your level of democracy, which you learned over a number of centuries. Please also do not demand or expect your number of civil rights, human rights or civil liberties … Please give us time. For me and every Pakistani, Pakistan comes first," said Musharraf in a statement.

In a "charge sheet" levied against the judiciary, the government said: "... (T)here has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular," adding that there was "constant interference in executive functions."

The government further accused the judiciary of having "weakened the writ of the government, the police force ... been completely demoralised and ...fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism, and intelligence agencies ... thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists."

Parliamentary elections may be delayed. The current Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz said, at a news conference, that the government is still committed to democracy, but "the government is deliberating on the election schedule."

"Now that we have emergency rule, parliament's term can be extended by one year," said Aziz. Pakistan was due to have a general election on January 15, 2008.

Secretary Rice met with President Musharraf at the Presidential Palace on June 27, 2007.

Meanwhile, the United States has said it will review the financial aid that is providing Pakistan. United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters, while in Jerusalem: "Obviously we are going to have to review the situation with aid, in part because we have to see what may be triggered by certain statutes."

The US has given an estimated US$10 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, primarily for counter-terrorism. This year Pakistan is receiving about $700 million in assistance.

"We have to be very cognizant of the fact that some of the assistance that has been going directly to Pakistan is directly related to counter-terrorism missions. This is a complicated matter," Rice said. She also condemned the declaration of emergency rule, saying "it's highly regrettable that Pakistan's president has declared a state of martial law. The U.S. does not support extra constitutional measures."

US Senator Joe Biden, the chairperson on the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations agreed that a review is needed. "I'm not sure how much good that military aid we're giving him to fight the extremists is doing us anyway," he said on television program, Face the Nation.

Tony Blair, special envoy for the Quartet on the Middle East said on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer: "The sooner that we return to the pledges to restore democracy that were set out, the better. But it's a very, very difficult situation this indeed, and it's a situation that if it's not resolved in the right way, I think it's extremely worrying for the whole of the world, not just for Pakistan."


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