Musharraf Declares Emergency Rule in Pakistan

Soldiers guard the administrative center of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after President Musharraf's announcement.
Soldiers guard the administrative center of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after President Musharraf's announcement. (By Wally Santana -- Associated Press)
By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 4, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 4 -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday declared emergency rule, suspended the constitution and fired the country's chief justice, extraordinary steps that gave him almost absolute power in a country that he described as spinning out of control.

The government deployed hundreds of army rangers on the streets of Islamabad, arrested some opposition figures and blacked out privately owned television stations across the country.

For Musharraf, who has become deeply unpopular in recent months, the moves represented a drastic gamble and came despite intense appeals from the United States and other Western allies to stay within the bounds of the Pakistani constitution.

In an emergency order, Musharraf cited rising extremism and a judiciary "at cross purposes" with the rest of the government as reasons for the moves. But the timing suggested he was also attempting to extend his rule as both president and army chief. The Supreme Court had been reviewing a challenge to his candidacy for another presidential term, and was expected to rule as early as next week.

The court made a defiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt Saturday to block Musharraf's implementation of emergency rule; in response, seven dissident justices were immediately removed from the bench. Musharraf said the Parliament, where he holds a commanding majority, would remain intact.

Members of Pakistan's fragmented political opposition condemned Musharraf for moves they said effectively put the country under martial law, and they vowed to take to the streets in protest. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, a longtime political rival of Musharraf's, immediately flew back to the country from a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Musharraf appeared on national television just before midnight Saturday and delivered a rambling, 50-minute defense of his decision. He described a government that, faced with terrorist threats and on the verge of destabilization, could no longer function. The country has been beset by a wave of attacks by Islamic extremists in recent months; those attacks have expanded from tribal areas along the Afghan border to regions farther east that have traditionally been relatively peaceful.

"In my view, this was the simplest way to save Pakistan, to put it back on the right track," Musharraf said.

At one point in his speech, Musharraf, 64, began speaking in English, saying he wanted to address the United States and the West. "I would kindly ask you to understand the criticality of the environment inside Pakistan and around Pakistan," he said. "Inaction at the moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide."

He then quoted Abraham Lincoln, saying that America's 16th president had broken laws, violated the U.S. Constitution and trampled individual liberties to keep the country together during the Civil War.

Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, vowed to continue to move Pakistan toward democracy but did not specify how. He said only that he "hoped" the country could still hold parliamentary elections that had been expected by January.

State-run TV aired interviews in which pro-government analysts criticized political opponents and the independent media for not backing Musharraf at a time of crisis.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company