President General Pervez Musharraf, who had promised to relinquish his army post and become a civilian president this year, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, dashing hopes of a smooth transition to democracy for the nuclear-armed nation.
He accused the judiciary and Islamic militants of destabilising the country, saying he had acted to stop Pakistan from committing “suicide” and appealing for understanding from his Western allies. Gen Pervez’s leadership is threatened by the re-emergence of political rival and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, an increasingly defiant Supreme Court set to rule on the validity of his recent presidential election win, and an Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital.
Crucial parliamentary elections expected in January could now be delayed by up to a year, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said.
Mr Aziz said up to 500 opposition activists had been arrested in the last 24 hours. Among them were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, cricket star-turned politician Imran Khan and Hamid Gul, former chief of the intelligence agency and a staunch critic of Gen Musharraf’s support for the US.
In Islamabad, transmissions by television news networks other than state-controlled TV have remained off the air.
The Bush administration said yesterday US aid to Pakistan would be reviewed. The US has provided about $11 billion (€8bn) to Pakistan since 2001, when Gen Musharraf allied with the US after the September 11 attacks.