Nov 16, 2007

Pakistan: One Man Refuses to Budge

In stark contrast to their President and army chief, the government and parliament of Pakistan stuck to the book and disbanded as their term ended, with a caretaker government installed until the next elections are held.

In stark contrast to their President and army chief, the government and parliament of Pakistan stuck to the book and disbanded as their term ended, with a caretaker government installed until the next elections are held.

Below is an article published by The International Herald Tribune: 

The government resigned and Parliament was dissolved on schedule Thursday [15 November 2007] at the end of their five-year term, and a caretaker government was announced for the election campaign, but General Pervez Musharraf stayed put in his dual posts of army chief and president, even though his term had technically expired.

Opposition party leaders, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, announced that they were forming a united opposition movement to campaign for Musharraf's resignation from both his posts and for the restoration of the Constitution and judiciary. Although many of the leaders are in jail or under house arrest, they have been able to call one another and give interviews to the news media. 

Two of Pakistan's independent news channels came back on the air in a slight easing of restrictions on the media, but two more remained banned. The police continued rounding up political party members and arrested Raza Rabbani, a senior member of Bhutto's party and opposition leader of the Senate, along with a number of other politicians meeting with him in his home city of Karachi, according to a fellow senator, Enver Baig.

Two teenagers, the first casualties of the de facto martial law, were shot and killed in clashes with the police in Lyari, a district of Karachi that is strongly pro-Bhutto, news agencies reported. 

Musharraf, who introduced emergency rule Nov. 3 [2007], scrapping the Constitution and dismissing the Supreme Court, has come under strong international pressure to roll back his measures of the last 12 days, including the arrests of thousands of opposition party workers, lawyers and human rights advocates. The U.S. deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, is arriving Friday [16 November 2007] in Pakistan to meet with senior officials and will deliver the same strong messages to end the state of emergency and reverse the arrests and restrictions introduced under it, a Western diplomat said.

Yet Musharraf is unlikely to comply immediately. He is still waiting for a newly appointed Supreme Court to confirm his Oct. 6 [2007] election to another presidential term, and it is unlikely he will lift the emergency before that, officials said. The attorney general, Malik Abdul Qayyum, said that he expected a decision from the new Supreme Court - 11 judges have now taken an oath under a provisional constitutional order - by next week and that Musharraf would resign his military post by Dec. 1 [2007]. 

Qayyum said that Musharraf could remain in his post of president despite the end of his term, since the Constitution allows the outgoing president to remain in the post until the new president is sworn in.

In another sign that he may be preparing for that transition to civilian president, Musharraf transferred the right to enforce or remove the state of emergency to the presidency. He installed emergency rule on Nov. 3 in his capacity as chief of army staff, but will retain control over the emergency rule even if he resigns from his military post. 

That move was immediately criticized by opposition leaders as an indication that Musharraf was determined to retain control of the country and in particular the upcoming electoral process.

Bhutto repeated her call for Musharraf to resign from both his posts before elections are held. The disparate opposition parties vowed Thursday to unite in their opposition to Musharraf's continued rule, yet with many of them in jail or under house arrest, and long-held ideological and political differences dividing them, the opposition appears weakened. 

Bhutto, who is under house arrest in Lahore, said she was talking to other party representatives to find a way "around the minefield."

"It's a question of them wearing us down with arrests, or we wear them down with demonstrations," she said in a telephone interview. 

She said the lack of large public demonstrations or unrest so far was because so many people were being arrested and the police had been mobilized in force across the country.

But people were still managing to protest, she said, and she claimed that a three-day march she had planned to make through the most populous province, Punjab, from Lahore to the capital, Islamabad, was going ahead without her and had run into massive police barricades at Jhelum. 

The chairman of the Senate, Mian Mohammed Soomro, has been appointed chairman of the caretaker government, which will oversee parliamentary elections due in the first half of January, the independent news channel Dawn News reported. Soomro and a 15-member cabinet would be sworn in Saturday morning, said Dawn News, which is back on the air after being blocked from cable transmissions for 12 days

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz paid a farewell call on Musharraf, and in a speech said he was leaving his office with a "sense of satisfaction," according to the government news agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan. 

Aziz, who served first as finance minister under Musharraf, and then as prime minister for the last five years, said that his government had brought about a "sea change" in the economy and that his reforms had been acknowledged worldwide, the news agency said.

The top U.S. military officer said Thursday [15 November 2007] that there was no sign that political unrest in Pakistan had undermined the security of that country's nuclear weapons arsenal, The Associated Press reported from Washington. 

"I don't see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy, but clearly we are very watchful, as we should be," the officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference.

He described the military situation in Pakistan as stable and said U.S. military contacts with Pakistan had not been disrupted by the turmoil there.