West urges Musharraf not to impose emergency rule

Posted in Broader Middle East | 03-Nov-07 | Source: International Herald Tribune

A portrait of Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is removed from the front of the parliament building in Islamabad on Thursday.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: American and European diplomats have been warning Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, since Monday to refrain from imposing emergency rule to maintain his hold on power in his increasingly volatile nation, a Western diplomat said Friday.

"What they are saying is that this would put in jeopardy all kinds of assistance and support," said the Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It would be just very difficult to support this government."

The warnings come as reports are emerging that the government of Musharraf, an important ally of the United States in its war against terrorism, has drafted legislation to impose a state of emergency, reports that some government officials have denied.

Popular opposition to the general's continued rule has grown, and militant activity is increasingly focused on the Pakistani authorities. Pakistan's security forces continue to battle Islamist militants in the Swat region, in the country's northwest, where bombings have become common. Elsewhere, a suicide attacker struck an Air Force bus in Sarghoda on Thursday, killing eight people. That followed a suicide attack earlier this week that killed seven people only a mile from Musharraf, who was working at his military office in Rawalpindi, the garrison town near the capital, Islamabad.

A state of emergency would increase the powers of the general, who seized power in a coup in 1999 and appointed himself president in 2001. He won a referendum in 2002, and then a vote of confidence by the electoral college in 2004 that allowed him to continue as president through a term that expires in two weeks. He was re-elected by national and provincial assemblies in early October.

The Supreme Court is now expected to rule early next week on whether Musharraf was eligible to participate in that election, or has already held the presidency as long as the Constitution allows.

Western officials have urged him to abide by the court ruling. But some people worry that if the court rules against him, he might declare emergency rule to retain power.

Opposition politicians, many of whom boycotted the election, say the government is raising the specter of emergency rule to influence the court not to rule against Musharraf.

Sherry Rehman, the central information secretary of Pakistan Peoples' Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said: "The PPP considers the imposition of emergency rule a negation of the democracy it has fought for. It will resist such a move on all counts and with all its force."

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the minister for railways, who is considered to be close to the general, confirmed that emergency rule was being considered, citing a spate of suicide bombings. But he denied that the step was intended to influence the court.

"The country is very tense," Ahmed said. "But I must be very clear that no decision has been taken yet."

However, another government official ruled out the possibility of emergency rule.

That official, Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum, addressed the Supreme Court Friday. "Who is saying that martial law is going to be imposed?" Qayyum said, Agence France-Presse reported. "Martial law will not be imposed, not be imposed, not be imposed."

Admiral William Fallon, the senior American commander in the region, arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night for a previously scheduled meeting with the general to discuss rising militant attacks in the country. He is expected to tell the Pakistani president that the United States is opposed to emergency rule. The Western warnings follow several months of pressure from a chorus of senior American officials who have visited or telephoned Musharraf. In August, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called him, urging him not to declare emergency rule.

Friday, as she traveled to Turkey, Rice urged Musharraf to go ahead with the elections planned for January.

"I am not going to get into the details of our conversations but I think it would be quite obvious that the United States would not be supportive of extra-constitutional means," she said, Reuters reported. "Pakistan needs to prepare for and hold free and fair elections." But she said that she had not spoken to the general in recent days.