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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 November 2007, 12:25 GMT
Musharraf takes on Pakistan's judges
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Pakistani policemen arrest a civil rights activist who was trying to march towards ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry's house
Activists angry at the emergency measures have been arrested
The proclamation of emergency in Pakistan has made one big difference. All the nearly 30 TV news channels have gone off the air. And with them has gone all the cacophony about the political, judicial and military crisis in the country.

Pakistan's military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, suspended the constitution and proclaimed emergency rule in a televised address on Saturday evening.

Soon afterwards, TV cable operators said they were asked by the government to stop beaming all local and foreign news channels, except the official Pakistan Television Corp (PTV).

Constitutional safeguards on life and liberty curtailed
Police get wide powers of arrest
Suspects can be denied access to lawyers
Freedom of movement restricted
Private TV stations taken off air
New rules curtail media coverage of suicide bombings or militant activity
Chief justice replaced, others made to swear oath of loyalty
Supreme Court banned from rescinding emergency order

This blackout forced many people to step out of their homes on Sunday morning to get hold of a morning newspaper.

For one woman, this was a welcome change.

"Its strangely quiet and peaceful today, although I thought emergency was a bad thing," she said.

But there is no mistaking the sense of uncertainty that has gripped the nation. Front pages of all the national newspapers are splashed with the news of emergency rule, and there are side stories and analysis pieces.

Papers also feature the new media law, which prohibits coverage of militants' activities, their statements, and any comment that may contain sectarian, ethnic or racial undertones.

Judges consider next move

Meanwhile, resentment is brewing among the judges of the higher judiciary. More than 60 judges, out of a total of 97, have declined to take oath under the new Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).

Their homes have been placed under strict security, presumably to prevent them from going to the courts on Monday, as some of them plan to do.

Smiles as Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry (centre) is reinstated in July 2007
Chief Justice Chaudhry (centre) has once again been ousted
In a hurriedly-called sitting on Saturday evening, seven Supreme Court judges issued an order barring the government from proclaiming emergency rule, and advising the state functionaries not to carry out emergency orders, if issued.

This order is likely to be used by the leaders of the lawyers' movement to mobilise agitation against the government. An act of defiance by the judges could further exacerbate the situation.

The lawyers' movement emerged in March when Gen Musharraf tried to remove the country's Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, from his post.

Gen Musharraf will be looking to the same two factors of support that helped him survive in office despite the earlier row over the chief justice
Supported by civil rights groups and political parties, the movement was instrumental in isolating and denting the credibility of Gen Musharraf's government.

Chief Justice Chaudhry was reinstated by the Supreme Court in July, and the government has since been living in constant fear of a court decision that would term Gen Musharraf's rule illegal.

The court has been hearing a case to determine whether Gen Musharraf had legal grounds to contest for another presidential term, which he won in an election last month. Analysts believe the fear of an adverse judgement forced him to impose emergency rule.

Bhutto's role

The emergency, and defiance by the judges, have brought the lawyers' movement back into focus.

Pakistani lawyers celebrate the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, July 2007, Hyderabad, Pakistan
Lawyers were jubilant when the chief justice was reinstated in July
Chief Justice Chaudhry has been replaced. Anticipating trouble, the government has placed most lawyer leaders, opposition politicians and some civil rights activists under house arrest.

But those still free are planning to call news conferences, while lawyers as well as several political groups have issued strike calls for Monday.

And there is much fuel that can be added to this renewed fire. For one, Gen Musharraf's move is largely viewed by lawyers and politicians as another attempt to subjugate the judiciary.

Gen Musharraf's popularity hit the rock bottom during the row over the chief justice earlier this year.

In addition, analysts interpret the move to impose emergency as an admission by Gen Musharraf that the political system he put together in 2002 has failed to deliver.

Besides, a vast majority of the public suspect that the militant threat, which has been cited as one of the reasons for emergency rule, is being somehow engineered by the state itself.

With such a crisis of credibility, Gen Musharraf will be looking to the same two factors of support that helped him survive in office despite the earlier row over the chief justice.

The first factor is Western, particularly American, support. The reaction from Western capitals has been cautious and mixed, stopping short of a total rejection of what some analysts call "the second coup" by Gen Musharraf.

The second is former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which has recently broken ranks with the generally anti-US opposition in favour of an understanding with the government, thereby helping to partly restore its legitimacy.

Last night, she cut short a visit to Dubai, flying back to Karachi to condemn the proclamation of emergency as "a fresh assault on judiciary" and the act of an individual for "self-preservation".

Will the PPP go all out to oppose the emergency, or will it tolerate it as a "necessary evil" provided elections are held as originally planned some time in January and a level playing field is provided to all contenders?

Over the next week or two, we will know some of the answers.

Pakistan's president on imposing emergency rule

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