ISLAMABAD, Nov 7: Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto on Wednesday threatened President Gen Pervez Musharraf with a long march next week if he did not revoke emergency rule and reinstate the sacked judges of the superior courts.
Ms Bhutto announced the decision of holding the march from Lahore to Islamabad during a news conference after presiding over a meeting of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy at PPP’s central secretariat.
It was the first time that the PPP chief had talked about the effect of the proclamation of emergency on the judiciary in categorical terms. Earlier she had only been condemning the government’s decision to curb fundamental rights.
In reply to a question whether she wanted to see deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry back in his office, she said: “After the Constitution is restored, all judges will automatically be restored”.
Ms Bhutto recalled that while announcing imposition of emergency, Gen Musharraf had accused the judges of releasing Lal Masjid militants. On the other hand, she said, she had received a message from a detained judge that the two judges who had ordered the release of the militants had already taken oath under the Provisional Constitution Order.
She called for the immediate release of all arrested persons, including judges, lawyers and political activists. She also condemned the curbs on the media.
The former prime minister said if Gen Musharraf did not accept her demands by Friday, she would go to Lahore and lead a march on the federal capital on Nov 13.
Ms Bhutto also reiterated her previous demands of holding elections in January and repeal of a ban on twice-elected prime minister and the president’s powers to dismiss the assemblies.
She said if Gen Musharraf wanted a peaceful transition to democracy, he would have to fulfil the commitment he had made to her party, the nation, international community and the Supreme Court that he would quit the office of the army chief by Nov 15 and announce the election schedule.
“The ball is now in the government’s court. If Gen Musharraf wants to open the door for negotiations, he must restore the Constitution, retire as chief of army staff and stick to the schedule of holding elections,” she said. Minutes later her party workers were baton-charged and tear-gassed outside the Parliament House during a demonstration.
She also gave a call to her party workers and the people of Pakistan to come out on streets and court arrest. “I appeal to the people of Pakistan to come out in groups of three and four with Pakistani flags or party flags or white flags and court arrest,” she said. “We are not afraid of jails. We will bring out so many people that the regime will find it difficult to put them in jails.”
The PPP chairperson said that her party could no longer trust the government after the imposition of “martial law”. She resolved to hold a public meeting at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi on Friday despite a ban. “I appeal to the people to reach Liaquat Bagh to carry out the struggle with courage.”
The former prime minister alleged that the government had launched a crackdown on the PPP. She feared that she and other key party leaders could also be arrested.
She requested all the other opposition parties to join the ARD’s protest movement. “I ask all political parties to join me in the long march which will end in a sit-in in Islamabad,” she said.
Ms Bhutto said she was in contact with the leaders of other parties and hopefully they would join the protest.
The ARD was also planning to convene a multi-party conference to devise a joint strategy against the imposition of emergency, the PPP chief told journalists.
In reply to a question, Ms Bhutto said that her party was engaged in dialogue for a peaceful transition to democracy, but her talks with Musharraf reached “deadlock” after he imposed the emergency rule. “Now we find ourselves back in a dictatorship,” she said, adding that no meeting between her and Gen Musharraf had been scheduled.
In reply to another question, she said she had decided to lead the movement despite dangers to her life as the “danger to Pakistan’s survival is much greater.”
She reiterated her demand of calling foreign forensic experts to conduct a probe into the Oct 18 Karachi blasts. She alleged that those who had planned the attack on her rally had used a baby girl to implement their plan. She categorically rejected the government’s stand that it was a suicide attack.
Earlier, PPP secretary general Jahangir Badr announced that Ms Bhutto had been elected chairperson of the ARD. Makhdoom Amin Fahim would be its president.