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Rumor of Pakistan State of Emergency Sparks Furor


Rumor of Pakistan State of Emergency Sparks Furor

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Political turmoil in Pakistan deepens as the government raised the possibility that embattled President Gen. Pervez Musharraf might impose a state of emergency. News of the possible emergency declaration came after Musharraf abruptly canceled a planned visit to Afghanistan.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

A political furor erupted in Pakistan today after government officials said that President Pervez Musharraf might declare a state of emergency. Pakistani news reports say the general met top aides and legal advisers today to consider that option. But in the last few hours, a senior Musharraf aide has denied that there'll be a state of emergency.

News of that possible declaration came after Musharraf abruptly cancelled a planned visit to Afghanistan, where he was to attend a special conference among Afghan and Pakistani government and tribal leaders that opened today in Kabul.

We're joined now by our South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves. And Philip, a state of emergency would be a pretty momentous move. Why would Musharraf even consider that step?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, the official reason would likely be that the security crisis that he's been facing in Pakistan's northwest for a number of weeks now. There have been a wave of attacks up there, including suicide bombings, which began after the storming by government forces of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. And this also involved the tribal region of Waziristan, which U.S. intelligence says is an al-Qaida haven. That's turned again into a war zone after the collapse of a peace agreement out there.

And there have been regular attacks by militants on Pakistani forces and vice versa. Officials might also cite what they perceive to be threats by the U.S. to conduct unilateral military strikes against militants like al-Qaida and Taliban inside Pakistani territory. That is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: Now, you said the official reason would - is there another possible real reason?

REEVES: Oh, yes. There are plenty of other reasons, too. I mean, the bottom line is that Pervez Musharraf has got a serious problem. He had never made much secret that he wants another term as president whilst remaining chief of staff of the armed forces. He wants to be re-elected by the country's current national and provincial parliaments, whose terms are about to expire.

His opponents, who are growing in voice and number, are likely to challenge him over this in court, and they'll do so before a judiciary that's greatly involved after Pakistan's supreme court reinstated the country's chief justice last month, who Musharraf, of course, had been trying to dismiss. Those opponents are now circling. The prime minister he deposed in a coup, Nawaz Sharif, is petitioning the supreme court to let him to return to Pakistan. And, of course, Benazir Bhutto, with whom Musharraf has been exploring a power sharing deal, is being highly critical, not least at the possibility of a state of emergency. And there are no signs of that deal coming off. So he's in a political bind.

MONTAGNE: And what, in practical terms, would a state of emergency mean for Pakistan?

REEVES: Well, I think it will allow him, Musharraf, at any rate, it would allow him to buy himself a bit of time. It allows the term of the parliament, the present parliament, to be extended by up to a year. That means Musharraf would be able to delay the elections. Although it's worth noting that parliament is supposed, eventually, to pass a resolution approving that state of emergency for it remain in force beyond two months. It also gives the government greater powers to crack down on political opponents. For example, it suspends clauses in the constitution that provide the right to free movement, free assembly, peaceful protest, free speech, and so on. Although in recent months, it has to be said that there have been considerable violations of those rights by Pakistan's security forces, particularly during the demonstrations in support of the chief justice.

MONTAGNE: Now, that peace conference in Afghanistan known as the jigra, it's now opened. It was long planned, many, many months. Musharraf is a no-show at the last minute. What will be the impact there?

REEVES: Well, Musharraf sent along his prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, in his place. His own absence, as he's head of the army, of course, and the intelligence services, you know, does reduce the weight attached to the conference, particularly as one of the main themes of the conference is cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a key player, Musharraf, isn't going to be there.

But it's worth noting that many delegates from Pakistan's tribal belt, Waziristan, which is the epicenter of some of the problems in that conflict, have also boycotted this event. The Taliban is not there. And there were never high expectations that it would produce any really significant results.

MONTAGNE: Philip, thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Philip Reeves.

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Pakistani Leader Decides Against Emergency Rule

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Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf decided on Thursday against declaring a state of emergency and will press ahead with plans to hold elections, a government minister said.

Pakistani media had reported that the military leader would impose emergency rule to deal with rising violence and political instability - a move that a senior government official confirmed was under consideration.

Musharraf met with legal experts, security and political officials on Thursday, a presidential aide told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

After speaking to Musharraf by telephone, apparently following those meetings, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said the president was committed to holding free and fair elections.

"There were suggestions from the ruling coalition and also from certain other political entities that there is a requirement of emergency in the country. But these suggestions were obviously discussed and ultimately it was decided that it this is not the time," Durrani told The Associated Press.

The standing of Musharraf, a key ally in Washington's fight against terrorism who took power in a 1999 coup, has been badly shaken by a failed bid to oust the country's independent-minded chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who is likely to rule on legal challenges to Musharraf's bid to seek a new five-year presidential term.

Opposition parties had expressed alarm over the news that Musharraf was considering the move because of what Tariq Azim, the minister for state information, called "external and internal threats" and deteriorating security in Pakistan's volatile northwest near the Afghan border.

Azim also said talk from the United States about the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan "has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public." He mentioned Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama by name as an example of someone who made such comments, saying his recent remarks were one reason the government was debating a state of emergency.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Musharraf by phone for more than 15 minutes early Thursday, an official in Washington told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official refused to discuss the content of the conversation.

Under Pakistan's Constitution, the president may declare a state of emergency if it is deemed the country's security is "threatened by war or external aggression, or by internal disturbance beyond" the authority of provincial government's authority to control.

Last week, a bench of the court headed by Chaudhry freed a key political opponent of Musharraf on bail, and on Thursday heard a freedom of movement case lodged by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is seeking to return from exile to stand in parliamentary elections due by early 2008.

In neighboring Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said the extremism plaguing his country is creeping across the border into Pakistan.

Karzai made the comment today at the opening of a meeting in Kabul of more than 600 Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders.

The Afghan president expressed hope the four-day gathering will help address security problems in the border region, where resurgent Taliban militants have stepped up attacks and al-Qaida is feared to have regrouped.

The effectiveness of the meeting is being questioned because of the absence of Musharraf, who pulled out at the last minute and sent his prime minister instead.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press