Emergency Could Backfire on Musharraf

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By MATTHEW PENNINGTON
The Associated Press
Sunday, November 4, 2007; 2:11 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Suspending basic rights and firing independent-minded judges may buy President Gen. Pervez Musharraf more time in power, but his assumption of emergency powers could ultimately destabilize Pakistan further and embolden Islamic militants.

Western allies will also find it increasingly awkward to support a military leader who twice seized power by force and has become hated by many at home.

"Pakistan may well have been pushed into a blind alley and its capacity to come out unscathed is seriously in doubt," said a commentary in Sunday's Dawn daily written by noted human rights lawyer I. A. Rehman, 77, who was detained by police later in the day.

Musharraf was due to give up his military post this month and usher in a long-promised era of democracy. But, fearful that a defiant Supreme Court would spoil his plans to rule five more years as a civilian, he has resorted to dictatorial measures.

With authorities blocking independent TV networks, it was left to Pakistan's press to deliver a blistering indictment of Saturday's declaration of emergency, which many equated with martial law because it left the army chief effectively unchecked.

Musharraf fired the Supreme Court's top judge and authorities quickly rounded up hundreds of the general's political rivals, lawyers, and even raided the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, where Rehman was picked up with more than 30 others.

Dubbing it "Gen. Musharraf's second coup," Dawn juxtaposed pictures of the U.S.-allied leader in his fatigues when he ousted an elected government in 1999 with images of him declaring the emergency on TV in civilian clothes on Saturday, just a little grayer around the temples.

Musharraf justified the move on the grounds that Islamic militancy had become a grave threat to Pakistan. Indeed, jihadists have seize control of swaths of northwestern Pakistan and launched dozens of deadly suicide attacks, mostly against security forces. Hundreds have died in the violence this year.

But much of the page-long emergency declaration focuses on the activism of the Supreme Court. It was accused of working at "cross purposes" with the executive and undermining its efforts to fight extremism, pushing for the release of dozens of Pakistani terror suspects held secretly by intelligence agencies.

Tellingly, Musharraf chose to act as the court was about to decide whether to validate his Oct. 6 election victory _ a win that opponents decried as unconstitutional. A close aide to Musharraf told The Associated Press that they had expected the judges to rule against him. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Commentator Shafqat Mahmood said the perception that the emergency had been declared to prolong his personal power would further sully the profile of the military leader, whose popularity has sunk since his botched attempt to fire the independent-minded chief justice in March _ a mission finally accomplished Saturday.

"For the last six months, Musharraf has been a very hated figure in the country. Now he has pariah status. It is so obvious to the people that there is no principle involved here," Mahmood said.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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