Sharif Calls on U.S. to Condemn Musharraf's Actions

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says the U.S. must "put its foot down" with President Pervez Musharraf if it is sincere in its support of democracy in Pakistan. He calls the U.S. response so far to Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule "lukewarm" and "disturbing."

"I think we are on the brink of disaster," Sharif says of the current political situation in Pakistan. "One man is holding the whole nation hostage."

Sharif was ousted as prime minister in 1999, when Musharraf led a military coup against his government. Sharif was forced into exile and now lives in Saudi Arabia.

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Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said on Sunday that leaders of her opposition party had been arrested by Pakistan's security forces following a declaration of emergency rule by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Bhutto, who in recent weeks has sought a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, told NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday that "local leaders of the (Pakistan People's Party) were arrested last night."

Bhutto said she was "deeply concerned" about the situation and surprised that she herself had not been arrested when she returned to Pakistan on Saturday after a brief trip to Dubai.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup but had promised to stand down as army chief, declared a state of emergency Saturday night, dashing hopes of a smooth transition to democracy for the nuclear-armed nation.

In a statement on state-run television, he cited concerns about an Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which was expected to rule soon on the validity of his recent presidential election win. Hearings scheduled for next week were postponed, with no new date set.

"He said he's done this to stop extremism. But many people in Pakistan believe that this has actually been done to stop the Supreme Court from giving an adverse order against his eligibility to remain as army chief and president of the country," Bhutto told NPR.

Another former Pakistan prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, told NPR's All Things Considered that Pakistan was on the "brink of disaster."

"One man is holding the whole nation hostage," Sharif said.

He called for Washington to take a firm stand against Musharraf's actions.

"The United States has to put its foot down if it wants democracy in Pakistan," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a return to democracy, as the American embassy urged citizens in Pakistan to remain at home and defer all nonessential travel. But Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the emergency declaration "does not impact our military support" of the Muslim nation or its efforts in the war on terror.

Meanwhile in Pakistan on Sunday, the headline carried by the Daily Times read: "It is martial law."

Pakistan Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum denied claims by Bhutto and Sharif that Musharraf had imposed martial law — direct rule by the army — under the guise of a state of emergency. He noted that the prime minister was still in place and that parliament would complete its term, ending Nov. 15.

In the capital, Islamabad, police wielding assault rifles rounded up opposition leaders and rights activists Sunday after Musharraf suspended the constitution, ousted Pakistan's top justices and deployed troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said 500 activists had been arrested in the last 24 hours. He said the extraordinary measures, which include shutting down all but state-controlled media, would remain in place "as long as it is necessary." He also said parliamentary elections could be postponed up to a year, but no such decision had been made.

In Islamabad, phone service that was cut Saturday evening appeared to have been restored by Sunday morning. But transmissions by television news networks other than state-controlled Pakistan TV remained off the air.

Scores of paramilitary troops blocked access to the Supreme Court and parliament. Otherwise streets in the capital appeared calm, with only a handful of demonstrations. But one, attended by 40 people at the Marriott Hotel, was broken up by baton-wielding police.

"Shame on You! Go, Musharraf, go!" the protesters shouted, as officers dragged some out of the crowd and forced them to the ground. Eight were taken away in a van.

Western allies had urged Musharraf not to take authoritarian measures despite recent his country's recent turmoil.

With additional reporting from The Associated Press

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