(Update: Police on Monday used tear gas to break up protests by lawyers who are angry about Pakistan’s state of emergency. The BBC reported that many lawyers were arrested during protests in the cities of Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi. The Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami said hundreds of its members also were arrested overnight.)
(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – A leading Islamist politician in Pakistan is calling for protests against [President] Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency, likening the campaign against the military ruler to the “obligatory” struggle against “any infidel” or foreign occupier.
Lawyers angered by the emergency decree also called for a general strike on Monday.
Musharraf late Saturday night suspended the constitution and declared emergency rule, dismissing troublesome judges, detaining hundreds of political critics, and imposing restrictions on a media that has become more outspoken in recent years.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned from exile to contest parliamentary elections that now look certain to be cancelled, called the move a “second coup,” a reference to Musharraf’s seizure of power in 1999.
Parliament’s tenure was due to end on November 15 and elections were expected in January, but Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz hinted Sunday that there could be a delay of one year.
The emergency declaration was widely seen as a pre-emptive step ahead of an imminent Supreme Court decision on the legality of Musharraf’s recent re-election as president while still holding the post of army chief.
Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani confirmed that Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had been removed from his post.
Chaudhry is the judge whose suspension by Musharraf last March triggered the political crisis that deepened over the weekend. After street protests he was reinstated in July, but on Sunday, Chaudhry and other judges who refused to take a new oath following the suspension of the constitution were [fired].
Qazi Hussain Ahmad, president of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of Islamist political parties that won power in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in 2002 on an anti-U.S. platform, said a protest movement would begin on Monday.
“We are not talking about violating the constitution but protecting it from the adventurers and military generals who violate it on gunpoint to usurp power and people’s rights,” he said in a statement posted on the website of his Jamaat-e-Islami party, one of the six parties in the MMA.
Calling Musharraf a “terrorist,” Qazi urged supporters to take to the streets in a “spirit of martyrdom like other Muslim freedom fighters who are running the liberation struggles in Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq under extremely difficult circumstances.”
He said the MMA would also discuss joint reaction with other political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bhutto.
In a midnight televised address to the nation Saturday, Musharraf — who referred to himself not as “president” but as “chief of army staff” — said he had decided to act in response to an increase in extremism and judicial interference in the affairs of state.
Among other things, he accused judges of undermining the government’s efforts against terrorism by ordering the release of some terror suspects.
Media restrictions in the emergency decree outlaw “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organs of the state.”
Media outlets are also prohibited from carrying statements by extremist groups or from carrying images of perpetrators of terrorist attacks and their victims. Private television news channels were taken off the air.
The clampdown comes as a blow to a media that has become increasingly vibrant during the Musharraf years – a process he has frequently highlighted and praised.
The Committee to Protect Journalists Sunday urged Musharraf to lift the restrictions, saying the “drastic steps to silence news coverage make a mockery of his often repeated claims to have fostered free and open media.”
Ally under fire
Musharraf this year has faced growing opposition from three main quarters — from pro-Taliban militants in parts of the country near the border with Afghanistan and those sympathetic to them; from political opponents, including Bhutto, pushing for a return to civilian rule; and from the legal fraternity, including lawyers and top judges.
On Oct. 6, lawmakers in national and provincial assemblies re-elected him as president, and the Supreme Court was about to decide on whether the result should be declared invalid when the emergency was imposed.
Criticism over the weekend came from the U.S., …Britain and several other countries. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking during a visit to the Middle East, urged “a quick return to a constitutional order” and said the U.S. would have to review the financial aid sent to Pakistan.
Musharraf has become an important ally in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s frontier regions since the Taliban-aligned al-Qaeda terror network attacked America on 9/11.
However, regional security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman, director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai, India, said Musharraf was himself largely responsible for the surge of Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorism in the areas straddling the border.
He noted that it was Musharraf who in 2002 facilitated the election of the MMA in the NWFP — a step aimed at marginalizing Musharraf’s political rivals, including Bhutto’s PPP.
“This paved the way for the resurgence of the Neo Taliban and al-Qaeda and the mushrooming of other pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda jihadi organizations all over the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),” Raman said, referring to the turbulent region adjacent to the NWFP and Afghanistan.
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1. What decrees/actions did Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf impose over the weekend that caused lawyers to call for a general strike in Pakistan? Be specific.
2. What is widely believed to be the reason for President Musharraf’s actions?
3. What reasons did Gen. Musharraf give for his actions?
4. a) Who is Iftikhar Chaudhry?
b) Why was Mr. Chaudhry removed from his post?
5. a) What is the MMA?
b) How is President Musharraf’s support of the MMA seen as increasing al Qaeda terrorism operations in the area, according to security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman?
6. President Musharraf has frequently claimed to have promoted a free press in Pakistan. What steps did he take over the weekend to limit freedom of the press?
7. How is the U.S. reacting to President Musharraf’s actions?
8. How might the recent actions of President Musharraf, ally of the U.S. against Islamic terrorists, hurt our efforts in the area?
Read about President Musharraf’s reasons for his imposition of a state of emergency from his point of view at Pakistan’s official government website at pak.gov.pk.
Read official U.S. government reaction to President Musharraf’s actions at the State Department website at secretary.state.gov.
For information on Pakistan’s government, go to the CIA World FactBook here.
Follow the developing story out of Pakistan at Yahoo News here.
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