Pakistan’s deposed chief justice called on lawyers nationwide to defy police and protest President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule, while the government debated whether to delay parliamentary elections by as much as three months.
In the northwest, near the Afghan border, Islamic militants seized a town from outnumbered security forces who surrendered without a fight.Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, declared a state of emergency on Saturday, saying it was a response to a growing Islamic militant threat. He suspended the constitution, put a stranglehold on the media and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent. Thousands of people have been rounded up and thrown in jail.In the northwestern Swat valley, which has seen a wave of militant violence, about two dozen police officers and several troops offered no resistance to militants who seized three police stations and a military post around the town of Matta.”We didn’t harm the police and soldiers and allowed them to go to their homes as they didn’t fight our mujahedeen,” said Sirajuddin, a spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah, a firebrand cleric whose armed followers are battling security forces.He said the militants had hoisted their black and white flags over the captured posts. A police official in Swat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job, confirmed the surrender.The ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry called on lawyers to defy the state of emergency — and hundreds of attorneys and police clashed during a street rally in the central city of Multan in the second day of unrest since the restrictions were imposed.”Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice,” Chaudhry, who is under virtual house arrest in the capital, Islamabad, told lawyers by mobile phone. “Don’t be afraid. God will help us and the day will come when you’ll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time.”President Bush and other Western allies have called on Musharraf to resign as army chief and hold crucial parliamentary elections in January as originally planned, but so far no new date has been set.Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month following eight years in exile last month, flew to Islamabad from Karachi on Tuesday to discuss the political crisis with other opposition parties. She said she had no plans to meet Musharraf, with whom she was considering forming an alliance with just a few weeks ago.Hundreds of her supporters are among those arrested.Many say Musharraf was making a final effort to cling to power, though he says his primary aim was to help fight a growing Taliban and al Qaida-linked militant threat. His moves came ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether his recent re-election as president was legal. The top judge, Chaudhry, was removed and other justices replaced.There does not appear to be a groundswell of popular resistance in the nation of 160 million, which has been under military rule for much of its 60-year history, with cynicism and apathy over the political system widespread. Demonstrations so far have been limited largely to opposition activists, rights workers and lawyers, angered by the attacks on the judiciary.Pakistan’s Cabinet discussed possibly delaying the polls, a minister told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.”The issue of holding elections was discussed at length, and after attending the Cabinet meeting I feel that the elections may be delayed by two months,” he said. “There will not be a delay of elections for longer than three months.”"There is no final decision.”Musharraf’s decision to adopt authoritarian measures, after promising for years that the country was in a transition to democracy, angered even his closest allies.Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq responded to international criticism Tuesday by saying its emergency declaration was an “internal matter.” He said he hoped “friendly countries” would understand that, with a mounting Islamic and militant threat, “extraordinary steps” had to be taken.So far only the Netherlands has punished Pakistan, freezing most of its development aid.The United States, Pakistan’s chief foreign donor, says it is reviewing aid to the Muslim nation but appeared unlikely to cut military assistance to its close ally in the so-called war on terror. U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled more than $10 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America.Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice, addressed about two dozen lawyers gathered inside the Islamabad Bar Association headquarters by telephone. About 200 lawyers protested outside, shouting “Musharraf is a criminal — we will not accept uniforms or bullets!”Almost immediately after Chaudhry spoke, some mobile phone services in the city were cut. They were back up hours later; it was not clear if the events were related.Lawyers were the driving force behind protests earlier this year when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to fire Chaudhry.Under the emergency, Musharraf purged the Supreme Court of independent-minded judges. So far, eight judges have taken a new oath. Previously there were 17 judges in the court.In their first ruling, the eight “set aside” a ruling of seven other rebellious judges, including Chaudhry, who had rejected the emergency as unconstitutional, court spokesman Arshad Muneer said.The court is expected to resume hearings on Musharraf’s eligibility for another presidential term and issue a quick ruling in his favor.Musharraf also has moved to control the media. Police raided and briefly sealed a printing press belonging to Pakistan’s largest media group. Broadcasts by independent news networks remained blocked, and domestic transmissions of BBC and CNN were cut.Opposition groups say about 3,500 people have been arrested since the emergency was put in place, while government officials put the number at around 2,500. Most detainees are lawyers, although opposition party supporters and rights activists have also been arrested.–Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad in Islamabad, Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Khalid Tanveer in Multan and Zia Khan in Lahore contributed to this report. Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.