Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) — Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, facing the biggest test to his eight-year military rule, won’t declare a state of emergency to quell unrest because he wants to hold national elections next year, the Information Minister said.
“The challenges of terrorist attacks are there but the president thinks the present situation does not call for imposing emergency,” Mohammad Ali Durrani said in a phone interview from the capital, Islamabad, today. “Musharraf said he doesn’t want to disrupt the political process.”
Opposition to Musharraf has escalated as he plans to ask lawmakers for a second five-year presidential term before parliamentary elections in January. A key ally of President George W. Bush, the 63-year-old Pakistani leader faces dwindling support in the U.S., where Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he would consider sending in American troops if Musharraf didn’t to take a tougher line against al-Qaeda.
The minister spoke with the president on the phone today to clarify reports he was planning to impose emergency rule. “The reports he plans to impose emergency are mere speculation,” Durrani said.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam party did not suggest imposition of emergency rule, Durrani said, without identifying who made the suggestion to the president.
Musharraf, a U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, is dealing with a series of attacks in the country that killed more than 160 people in the past month. The attacks followed an army raid at Islamabad’s Red Mosque on July 10 that killed 75 pro-Taliban militants and ended a challenge by clerics who wanted to impose Islamic law in the capital.
The president may declare a state of emergency because of deteriorating security, Junior Information Minister Tariq Azeem told GEO television channel yesterday.
“This would be a really bad idea,” Michael Krepon, co- founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington said earlier in an interview. “It would weaken his ties with Washington. It would especially weaken his ties with Congress.”
Pakistan’s opposition parties have demanded Musharraf quit as president and army chief and restore full civilian rule in the country, while the religious parties oppose his support for the global war against terrorism.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of Islamic alliance Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal, filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the legality of Musharraf’s decision to run for a second term as president while he is also the country’s army chief. The court has yet to set a date for the hearing.
Opposition protests intensified after he suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in March. A panel of judges ordered Chaudhry reinstated last month.
“Given the external and internal threats we are facing, especially on the border areas, the possibility of emergency cannot be ruled out,” Azeem had said. Musharraf attended a meeting with the government’s lawyers and top military officials to discuss the possibility of imposing emergency rule, GEO reported yesterday.
Rashid Qureshi, the spokesman for Musharraf, earlier had denied reports the president plans to suspend citizens’ rights.
Under Pakistan’s 1971 constitution, the president can suspend legal and parliamentary rules if “the security of Pakistan, or any part thereof, is threatened by war or external aggression, or by internal disturbance beyond the power of a Provincial Government to control.”
In that case, the right to speak, move around the country or form a political party can be suspended. Elections scheduled for January could be put off because the period of the National Assembly can be extended for as much as 12 months.
“Pakistan’s challenges won’t be mitigated by imposing emergency rule and the government should think twice before taking such a drastic step,” former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had said earlier in phone interview with GEO. “This would be negative for the restoration of democracy at a time when we’re heading into elections.”
Bhutto said in an interview on Aug. 7 she is trying to strike a political bargain with Musharraf that will enable him to remain president and allow her a new term in power.
The arrangement would allow her to return to Pakistan after eight years in exile and become a prime minister empowered to fight Islamist threats. Her popularity could shield Musharraf from challenges he has faced from democracy proponents since his 1999 coup.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court told the government’s chief lawyer today to respond to a petition by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who wants to return from exile in London. The government should prepare its response by Aug. 16 when the next hearing will be held, according to a court order read out by the top judge in the Supreme Court in Islamabad.
Sharif, who was prime minister from 1990 to 1993 and 1997 to 1999, was convicted of corruption and treason after he was ousted by Musharraf in a military coup eight years ago and sentenced to life imprisonment. Musharraf pardoned him in 2000 under an agreement in which Sharif, 57, agreed to go into exile for 10 years. The former premier, who lives in London, denies there was an agreement.
A survey of Pakistani public opinion released July 31 by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, an election-monitoring group, found 64 percent of voters opposed another term for Musharraf as president, an increase of 24 percentage points from the February-March poll. When asked who best could lead the nation now, 42 percent said Bhutto, while 30 percent favored Musharraf.