Pakistan: Musharraf suspends constitution, declares state of emergency
President - General Pervez Musharraf.
After a day of rumors that President Pervez Musharraf would impose a state of emergency and multiple denials by cabinet officials, Musharraf has pulled the trigger and suspended the Pakistani Constitution. A state of emergency is now in effect and Musharraf has created Provisional Constitutional Order to replace the existing constitution. Pakistani Rangers, a paramilitary police force, has deployed in the capital of Islamabad and surrounded the Supreme Court building.
Pakistani media outlet Dawn calls the suspension of the constitution and the imposition of emergency rule "General Musharraf's Second Coup." On its website, Dawn reports the Supreme Court has deemed the move "'illegal and unconstitutional' and asked the corps commanders and all civil and military officials not to take oath under the new Provisional Constitutional Order."
"Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who condemned the moves, has reportedly been sacked and is being confined to the Supreme Court with 10 other judges," the BBC reported. Musharraf attempted to remove Chaudhry during the spring of 2007. The move against Chaudhry failed and resulted in a political backlash which has worsened the political crisis in Pakistan.
The suspension of the constitution comes just days before Pakistan's Supreme Court was to rule on the constitutionality of Musharraf's recent presidential reelection victory. It is believed the high court would have ruled against Musharraf.
CNN reported Musharraf has imposed martial law (military rule). The New York Times reported "a list had been prepared of prominent Pakistani journalists and opposition politicians who would be detained."
Cable media outlets have been shut down and telephone links are being severed. At this time the websites of the major Pakistani media outlets are still functional.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan in October and recently left the country to visit family, immediately boarded a plane and is said to have returned to Karachi. Bhutto was targeted by a sophisticated al Qaeda ambush within 24 hours of her return in October. Bhutto placed the blame for the attack on Hamza bin Laden, the son of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Hamza is believed to have entered North Waziristan recently.
It is unclear what effect, if any, the declaration of a state of emergency will have on the Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Associated Press of Pakistan, the official government news outlet, stated both "terrorist attacks and judiciary's interference led to imposition" of the state of emergency.
"The two page proclamation that came into force at once states that banning of some militant groups took terrorist activities to an unprecedented level of "violent intensity" posing a grave threat to the life and property of the citizens of Pakistan," the Associated Press of Pakistan news release stated. "The order says that emergency has been imposed in the wake of suicide bombings, explosions of Improvised Explosive Devices, rocket firing and bomb explosions, besides a spate of attacks on State infrastructure and on law enforcement agencies."
The Pakistani military has been demoralized by the fighting and troops are surrendering or being captured and beheaded by the dozens. The Taliban has fought the military to a standstill in North Waziristan and Swat, and the government continues to seek negotiations.
Bhutto was critical of Musharraf's handling of the situation in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province just days ago. "Not only are our tribal areas out of our control, but even the beautiful valley of Swat is now under takeover by Islamists," she said in an interview. "Internal security has totally collapsed in Pakistan" and it could not have happened "without there being some blind eye if not collusion being turned to the rise of the militants and militancy."
Dawn's report, "General Musharraf's Second Coup," from its website:
President General Pervez Musharraf, in his capacity as the chief of army staff, on Saturday declared emergency rule in the country, suspended the country's constitution, and issued a new Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).
The official announcement on the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) came within minutes of a high-level meeting at the President House (Aiwan-i-Sadr) which was chaired by the President and attended by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, senior security and intelligence officials.
Shortly before the official announcement all the private and independent news channels in the country were pulled off the cable network, leading to intense speculations of a possible emergency rule or martial law.
This is the second time in General Musharraf's tenure that an emergency rule has been imposed, and PCO issued. First it was at the time when the military seized power on October 12, 1999. This time it was when President Musharraf had already ruled the country for eight long years, and was faced with a situation where there was a strong possibility that the Supreme Court may rule against his move to get himself elected for the second time as the head of the state.
According to some details of the new PCO made available to the media, the National Assembly, Senate, provincial assemblies, the prime minister, provincial chief ministers, federal and provincial ministers, governors and all those in the government services will continue to function normally.
However, it was not clear how this will be possible, or be legitimate, with President Musharraf resorting to the extra-constitutional action of suspending the constitution and issuing his own provisional constitutional order or PCO.
Soon after the proclamation of emergency by Gen Musharraf, an eight-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, reportedly set aside the decision. Setting aside General Musharraf's proclamation of emergency, the panel asked all members of the superior judiciary against taking oath under the new PCO.
The Supreme Court, in its order, termed Gen Musharraf's action "illegal and unconstitutional" and asked the corps commanders and all civil and military officials not to take oath under the PCO. Till filing of this report, the judges of the SC were still inside the court building.
However, under the circumstances chances of a major rebellion on part of the superior judiciary appeared highly unlikely. In any case, legal experts said, the government must have contemplated such a resistance, and as has been the past practice during military rule, some of the judges will not be invited to take oath, some will refuse, and a few will accept the new order to provide legitimacy to the this kind of emergency rule. In a latest development Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar was sworn in as a Chief Justice of Pakistan by the President.
There were also reports that some of the lawyers, including the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, have been taken into custody. Mr. Ahsan's wife told reporters that her husband was arrested soon after the imposition of emergency.
Although news of a possible emergency rule had been doing rounds for the past several days, on Saturday it became quite evident when a large contingent of paramilitary troops started to arrive in Islamabad, and cable operators were asked to pull the plug on all independent news channels, including DawnNews, Geo, ARY and Aaj TV.
Land telephone lines and mobile phones are also partially down in Islamabad and communication has become almost impossible in many parts of the capital. TV channels and newspapers had been reporting for the past few days that the government had made up its mind to declare emergency rule.