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Talk of a state of emergency declaration deepens Pakistan's political turmoil

Talk of a state of emergency declaration deepens Pakistan's political turmoil

Political turmoil in Pakistan deepened Thursday when the government flagged the possibility that embattled President Gen. Pervez Musharraf might impose a state of emergency.
Tariq Azim, the minister for state information, said a state of emergency could not be ruled out because of "external and internal threats" and deteriorating security in Pakistan's volatile northwest near the Afghan border.
But hours later, a top figure in the ruling party who is close to Musharraf, dismissed as gossip reports that such a step was being considered.
"These are only rumors and baseless reports," Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, told reporters, Pakistan's Geo television reported.
Musharraf, a key ally in Washington's fight against terrorism, has suffered dwindling support 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, engage in political activities and assert their fundamental rights through the courts.
Yet the Supreme Court _ which has emerged as the most potent check on the military leader's dominance of Pakistani politics _ could still challenge the legality of a state of emergency.
Last week, a bench of the court freed a political opponent of Musharraf, and on Thursday heard a freedom of movement case lodged by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is seeking to return from exile to run in parliamentary elections. Sharif went into exile after Musharraf ousted him in a 1999 coup.
Political analyst Talat Masood said that if Musharraf imposed a state of emergency it would be an act of desperation that would doubtless be challenged in the courts, and could trigger a public backlash.
"This is his weapon of last resort," Masood said. "But it would be a weapon of mass destruction, of mass political destruction."
Legal experts and security officials began arriving at Musharraf's office in the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday for meetings on the issue, a presidential aide said.
After speaking to Musharraf by phone Thursday, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said the president was committed to holding free and fair elections. "He is of the opinion in the present circumstances that there is no justification for imposition of emergency," Durrani said.
Earlier Azim told The Associated Press that a state of emergency was being considered by top government officials.
"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," 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.
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. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz went instead.
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.
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 has stressed the need to work with Musharraf.
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 a declaration of emergency would be "a negative step for the restoration of democracy."
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.
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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-19 22:54 GMT+08:00