ISLAMABAD, Nov 3: In what is a virtual martial law, President Pervez Musharraf, acting as army chief, on Saturday imposed a state of emergency throughout Pakistan, suspended the Constitution and replaced superior courts in a move that could put the country’s political future into disarray.

In his proclamation of emergency, the general blamed growing violence by militants and a judiciary which he said was working at “cross purposes” with his government and the legislature for his most drastic action since he seized power in an October 12, 1999 coup.

A Provisional Constitutional Order was also issued, putting the Constitution in ‘abeyance’ but saying the country would be “governed, as nearly as may be, in accordance with the Constitution” although seven of its articles relating to fundamental rights would remain suspended, and empowering the president to amend the document ‘as is deemed expedient’.

The move, greeted with immediate condemnation at home by opposition parties, lawyers and human rights groups and concern from “war on terror” allies like the United States and Britain, came only 12 days before the expiration of General Musharraf’s presidency and the present assemblies and while an 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court was in a weekend recess in its hearing of challenges to his election for another five-year presidential term mainly on grounds of his army office.

General Musharraf seemed to have run out of other political and constitutional options as he took one of the most extraordinary steps by a ruler in 60 years of Pakistan’s life, putting aside not only the Constitution but also his own sweeping powers as president and preferring to act as Chief of the Army Staff.

The emergency proclamation said a situation had arisen where the “government of the country cannot be carried out in accordance with the Constitution” and “the Constitution provides no solution for this situation”.

However, the present federal and provincial governments, both houses of parliament and the provincial assemblies were kept intact.

CHARGE-SHEET AGAINST JUDICIARY: While it started with what it called “visible ascendancy in the activities of extremists and incidents of terrorist attacks” as grounds for the action, the proclamation contained a long charge-sheet against the superior judiciary some of whose members, it said, “are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation’s resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace”.

“... (T)here has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular,” it said, adding that there was “constant interference in executive functions.”

It also blamed the judiciary’s interference for having “weakened the writ of the government, the police force ... been completely demoralised and ...fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism, and intelligence agencies ... thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists.”

While “some hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated were ordered to be released,” it said and added: “The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life and property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies (were) subdued.”

CONSULTATIONS: The proclamation said the general acted after reviews of the situation in meetings with the prime minister, governors of all four provinces, armed forces chiefs and army corps commanders.

“Now, therefore, in pursuance of the deliberations and decisions of the said meetings, I General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff, proclaim emergency throughout Pakistan,” it said. “I hereby order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance.”

BLOW TO JUDICIARY: The emergency proclamation’s charges against judicial activism, which were immediately followed by change of command at the Supreme Court as well as changes in provincial high courts, appeared aimed at reversing what was hailed as a revival of independence of the judiciary after months of an epic movement led by lawyers since the president suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on March 9.

Justice Iftikhar, who was reinstated by a bench of Supreme Court judges on July 20, and several of his colleagues got marching orders under the new Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) though some of them put up a last-ditch resistance by holding the action void.

The proclamation accused “some” unspecified judges of the superior courts of “overstepping the limits of judicial authority” and having “taken over the executive and legislative functions”.

The references seemed to be mainly directed at Justice Iftikhar and his colleagues for some of their actions against government officials and pursuance of the cases of missing people allegedly detained by intelligence agencies.

The fundamental rights suspended by the PCO related to security of persons (article 9) safeguard as to arrest and detention (article 10), freedom of movement (article 15), freedom of assembly, (article 16) freedom of association (article 17), freedom of speech (article 19), and equality of citizens (article 25).

It said the Supreme Court or a high court or any other court “shall not have the power to make any order against the president or the prime minister or any persons exercising powers or jurisdiction under their authority”.

Reports on Saturday’s events in Islamabad were filed by Raja Asghar, Nasir Iqbal, Amir Wasim, Khaleeq Kiani, Baqir Sajjad, Ahmed Hassan, Munawar Azeem and Muhammad Asghar.

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