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Pakistan Moves Against Opposition

Politicians and Activists Arrested, News Media Silenced; U.S. to Review Aid

Political activists arrested in Multan, Pakistan, were among hundreds detained the day after President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency.
Political activists arrested in Multan, Pakistan, were among hundreds detained the day after President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency. (By Khalid Tanveer -- Associated Press)
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By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 5, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 5 -- Pakistan's government on Sunday executed a nationwide crackdown on the political opposition, the news media and the courts, one day after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution.

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Police throughout the country raided the homes of opposition party leaders and activists, arresting at least 500. Top lawyers were also taken into custody, and 70 activists were detained at the offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the eastern city of Lahore. Police confiscated the equipment of journalists covering the raid and ordered them to leave the premises. All independent television news stations remained off the air for a second straight day. The prime minister, meanwhile, said that elections could be delayed for up to a year.

The United States continued to express outrage at Musharraf's decision, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington would review its $150 million-a-month assistance program to Pakistan.

In an address to the nation that ended in the early minutes of Sunday, Musharraf justified his declaration on the grounds that he needed a free hand to battle rising militancy in Pakistan.

But a top adviser conceded later Sunday that the final decision came only after a Supreme Court judge quietly informed the government last week that the court would rule against Musharraf's effort to stay on as president.

"After that, there was no option," said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. "He is not happy with this decision, frankly speaking. We are all not happy with the decision. But there was no other choice."

Critics of Musharraf have said his moves amount to a declaration of martial law. Because he took the steps in his capacity as army chief, many here have called the move "a second coup," with Gen. Musharraf taking over the government of President Musharraf. He first came to power in a military-led coup in 1999 and has been promising ever since to restore Pakistan to civilian-led democracy.

Hussain, who has been advocating internally for emergency rule since spring, said he expected it to last "three to four weeks" and that elections slated for early 2008 would be held on time. But Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters that the emergency declaration would remain in place "as long as it is necessary." Aziz said that parliamentary elections could be postponed up to a year but that no decision had been made.

Aziz acknowledged that 500 opposition activists had been arrested. Opposition groups said the number was higher. Ahsan Iqbal, the spokesman for an opposition party led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said that as many as 1,000 activists from his party had been detained, including top leaders. Iqbal said Musharraf was "guilty of treason" for suspending the constitution.

Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights lawyer, reported in an e-mail that she had been ordered to stay confined to her home for 90 days. She said it was ironic that Musharraf "had to clamp down on the press and the judiciary to curb terrorism," adding, "Those he has arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires."

Pakistan has been fighting a losing battle against Islamic extremism in the tribal areas, and beyond, with its forces targeted by rampant attacks in recent months.

Late Sunday, Taliban fighters released more than 200 soldiers who had been captured in the tribal region of South Waziristan more than two months ago. A member of the jirga, or council, that negotiated the release said the government had agreed to free at least 28 Taliban fighters in exchange.


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