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Pakistan government says it could declare state of emergency

Pakistan government says it could declare state of emergency

The government of embattled Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Thursday it may impose a state of emergency because of "external and internal threats" and deteriorating law and order in the volatile northwest near the Afghan border.
But it appeared the motivation for an emergency declaration was domestic political woes of Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terrorism.
His popularity has dwindled and his standing has been badly shaken by a failed bid to oust the country's chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry _ an independent-minded judge likely to rule on expected legal challenges to Musharraf's bid to seek a new five-year presidential term.
It was not immediately clear how Musharraf might gain politically from a state of emergency, but it would give him sweeping powers, including the ability to restrict people's freedom to move, rally, and engage in political activities.
He would also gain powers to restrict the parliament's right to make laws, and to suspend the courts' ability to hear cases on fundamental rights such as freedom of movement. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lodged a freedom of movement case with the Supreme Court that could allow him to return from exile to run in parliamentary elections due soon.
"These are only unconfirmed reports although the possibility of imposition of emergency cannot be ruled out and has recently been talked about and discussed, keeping in mind some external and internal threats and the law and order situation," Tariq Azim, minister of state for information, told The Associated Press.
"We hope that it does not happen. But we are going through difficult circumstances so the possibility of an emergency cannot be ruled out," he said.
Azim referred to recent Pakistani military action against militants in northwestern border areas that he said had resulted in the deaths of many soldiers.
More than 360 people have died during a wave of suicide attacks and clashes between militants and security forces that began with a bloody army assault on a pro-Taliban mosque in Islamabad in early July.
Azim also said some sentiment coming from the United States, including from Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama, over the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan "has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public."
Legal experts and security officials began arriving at Musharraf's office in the capital, Islamabad, at midmorning for meetings on the issue, a presidential aide said. Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum said he had been summoned to meet Musharraf later Thursday, but he had not been told the reason.
The aide said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz held talks with Musharraf before leaving Thursday morning to attend a U.S.-backed tribal peace council aimed at curtailing cross-border militancy by the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Musharraf on Wednesday abruptly pulled out of the meeting in Kabul with more than 600 Pakistani and Afghan tribal leaders, phoning Afghan President Hamid Karzai to say he couldn't attend because of "engagements" in Islamabad.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Musharraf by phone for more than 15 minutes in the early hours of Thursday, said an official in Washington on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. The official refused to discuss the content of the conversation.
Earlier, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. understands Musharraf's decision to pull out of the meeting in Afghanistan.
"President Musharraf certainly wouldn't stay back in Islamabad if he didn't believe he had good and compelling reasons to stay back," McCormack said.
Musharraf is under growing American pressure to crack down on militants at the Afghan border because of fears that al-Qaida is regrouping there.
The Bush administration has also not ruled out unilateral military action inside Pakistan, but like Obama, has stressed the need to work with Musharraf.
On Thursday, Chaudhry considered a petition lodged by Sharif _ whom Musharraf ousted in a coup eight years ago _ seeking the court's help in coming home. Chaudhry adjourned the hearing until Aug. 16, when the government will have to explain its position, said Akram Sheikh, one of Sharif's lawyers.
Musharraf says Sharif struck a deal with his government that he would not return home for 10 years. Sharif denied any deal.
Shahbaz Sharif, the former prime minister's brother, said a state of emergency would be aimed at preventing Sharif from returning to Pakistan. "There is no justification, no basis for emergency," he told Pakistan's Geo TV from London.
Another exiled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, widely reported to have met with Musharraf recently in the United Arab Emirates to discuss a power-sharing deal, told Geo it would be a "a negative step for the restoration of democracy."
Also Thursday, opposition party lawmakers vowed to oppose any imposition of emergency. "We will not accept it," said Naveed Qamar, a lawmaker from Bhutto's party.
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 government's authority to control.
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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-20 16:21 GMT+08:00