ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan police rounded up hundreds of people on Sunday after President Pervez Musharraf defied U.S. pressure and widespread domestic opposition by imposing a state of emergency.
Washington said it would have to review billions of dollars of financial aid to Pakistan after Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Saturday, thwarting U.S. hopes of a transition to civilian-led democracy.
“Obviously we are going to have to review the situation with aid, in part because we have to see what may be triggered by certain statutes,” said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had advised against emergency rule in two phone calls to General Musharraf on Oct 31.
Washington has given Islamabad, a major ally in its battle against al Qaeda, around $10 billion over the last five years.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said national elections, due in January, might be delayed by “up to a year”, but declined to say how long the emergency would last. Between 400 and 500 people were being detained, he added.
Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, said he acted in response to rising Islamist militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan and what he called a paralysis of government by judicial interference.
“I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” he said in an address to the nation, after suspending the constitution and purging the Supreme Court of judges opposed to him.
Most Pakistanis and foreign diplomats believe his main motive was to prevent the Supreme Court invalidating his October 6 re-election by parliament while still army chief.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, suspended eight months ago by Musharraf and reinstated in July, was fired after refusing to take a fresh oath following the suspension of the constitution.
A lawyers’ movement that emerged in the vanguard of an anti-government campaign last March called for a countrywide strike on Monday to protest Musharraf’s move.
Veteran Islamist Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of the opposition religious alliance, called for street protests to overthrow “the military dictator”.
Sunday was however relatively fairly quiet and there were no troops or large numbers of police on the streets in the main cities. Barricades blocked a major boulevard in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s English-language newspapers were unforgiving of the draconian measures that included a ban on any coverage “that defames, and brings into ridicule or disrepute the head of state” on pain of up to three years’ jail.
“General Musharraf’s second coup,” was Dawn’s headline.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accused Musharraf of “holding the entire nation hostage for his personal motives.”
Rice urged Musharraf to go ahead with elections and rejected criticism that Washington had depended too much on him: “The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf.”
But it was unclear how Washington would put pressure on Musharraf since most of its financial aid goes to the military and is designed to help combat resurgent Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda militants hiding along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
U.S. Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that based on a briefing he had with White House officials, “I don’t know that they have any notion of what they’re going to do right now.”
“There’s still this faint hope that this martial law will last only a day or two, but I think we’re kidding ourselves.”
Musharraf said he still planned to move to civilian-led democracy. He had been promising to quit the army and become a civilian leader if he was given a second five-year term.
Pakistan’s internal security has deteriorated sharply in recent months with a wave of suicide attacks, including an assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last month that killed 139 people.
In July, Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement based there.
At least 105 people were killed in the raid and a wave of deadly militant attacks and suicide bombings followed in which more than 800 people have been killed.
In a fillip for the army, however, pro-Taliban militants set free on Sunday 211 Pakistani troops they had held since August in a region near the Afghan border, a military spokesman said.
Bhutto flew back to Pakistan on Saturday from a brief visit to Dubai and accused Musharraf of imposing “mini-martial law” in a move to delay elections “by at least one or two years”.
Another leading opposition figure, former cricket captain Imran Khan, was put under house arrest, but escaped hours later.
Additional reporting by Kamran Haider, Augustine Anthony and Simon Gardner in Islamabad, Ovais Subhani in Karachi and Reuters bureaus in Washington, London and Jerusalem