Musharraf Imposes Emergency, Suspends Constitution (Update2)
By Khalid Qayum and Farhan Sharif
Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution, snubbing U.S. President George W. Bush's efforts to promote democracy in the world's second-largest Muslim nation.
``Pakistan's chief of army staff has declared a state of emergency and issued a provisional constitutional order,'' according to a statement read on state-run Pakistan Television today. Musharraf, 64, likely will make a televised address later in the evening, PTV said. He last imposed emergency rule for three years in 1999.
The crackdown comes before the Supreme Court is due to rule on the legality of Musharraf's re-election as head of state while also serving as army chief. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto flew to Dubai on Nov. 1, two weeks after surviving an assassination attempt on her return from eight years in exile.
Musharraf did not dismiss the government of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and the 342-member parliament, which is due to complete its five-year term on Nov. 15, PTV reported. National parliamentary elections are scheduled by Jan. 15, 2008.
``Pakistan Peoples' Party strongly condemns this decision and we will resist it in every way possible,'' Sherry Rehman, Bhutto's spokeswoman said in a phone interview from Karachi.
The main gates of the Supreme Court in Islamabad were sealed by security forces and roads leading to the building were blocked off. The Pakistan Rangers, the nation's paramilitary force, occupied the buildings of the top court, parliament and PTV. Privately-run television news channels went off air across the country around 5 p.m. today.
``This is akin to another martial law,'' Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said in a phone interview. ``If the situation was such that emergency was necessary to save the country, then Musharraf is responsible and should have resigned.''
Musharraf is risking the billions of dollars of military and economic aid that Bush pumped into Pakistan in return for his support for the U.S. war on terror. Musharraf was on the brink of suspending parliamentary rule in August before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned to urge him against that course, U.S. officials had said.
Rice said yesterday Musharraf should avoid imposing martial law and go ahead with elections due by Jan. 15, Reuters reported. Moderate forces in Pakistan, such as Bhutto, must work together to prepare for the elections, Rice said, adding she hadn't spoken to Musharraf in recent days.
Martial law wouldn't affect the work of the Supreme Court and the 11-member panel will complete hearings by Nov. 6 in the case challenging Musharraf's candidacy, Justice Javed Iqbal, who heads the panel, said in court yesterday.
Musharraf, who has survived at least four assassination attempts by Islamic extremists since 2001, has faced his greatest challenge since he seized power in a military coup in 1999. Religious parties oppose his support for Bush's campaign against terrorism and the country's opposition parties are demanding his resignation.
The general won the mandate for a second five-year term on Oct. 6.
Pakistan's stocks slumped the most in two months on Nov. 1 after a suicide bomb attack, the second this week, killed at least eight people and concern mounted that the Supreme Court will rule Musharraf ineligible for a second term.
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle attacked a Pakistan Air Force bus, killing at least eight people and wounding 4 others near the industrial city of Faisalabad.
More than 450 people have been killed in bombings since security forces stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, ending a challenge to the government by clerics seeking to impose Islamic law in the capital.
Pakistan is in the final phase of returning to full democracy, Musharraf said on Oct. 30, according to the official Associated Press of Pakistan. He said the first phase from 1999 to 2002 involved him managing the affairs of state while the second from 2002-2007 saw a fully functioning parliament where his role was confined to giving advice to the government.
Former Prime Minister Bhutto said on Oct. 31 she had heard ``rumors'' Musharraf planned to impose a state of emergency, GEO television reported. Musharraf must respect the court's decision, she said.
Bhutto, 54, who leads the second-biggest opposition party in Parliament, was the target of twin suicide bombings on Oct. 19 after she returned to Pakistan, ending eight years of self- imposed exile. At least 136 people were killed and over 500 were injured.
As part of the deal allowing her return, Bhutto did not object to Musharraf being re-elected Oct. 6 by the current Parliament and state legislatures, a vote boycotted by the opposition. Bhutto is hoping that the laws will be changed to allow her to run for a third term as prime minister in parliamentary elections.
Musharraf had agreed to give up control of the army by Nov. 15 as part of the deal.
Musharraf sparked the most serious opposition to his rule in March when he dismissed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry on charges of misusing authority. Lawyers and opposition parties staged nationwide demonstrations until a 13- member panel of Supreme Court judges reinstated Chaudhry in July.
Islamic parties oppose Musharraf's security operations in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan and his backing for the U.S.-led war on terrorism since 2001, when he ended Pakistan's support for the Taliban regime that sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001.
To contact the reporter on this story: Khalid Qayum in Islamabad, Pakistan on email@example.com