ISLAMABAD: In a lightning operation led by Army Chief General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the armed forces of Pakistan have taken over the country's administration, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and top PNA leaders, except Begum Nasim Wali Khan, have been placed under protective custody temporarily.
The National and Provincial Assemblies have been dissolved and the provincial Governments have been removed. All political activities have been banned till further orders. The Army operations, conducted with swiftness late last night, followed an unending political crisis which began in March when the Opposition resorted to country-wide agitation alleging that the March elections were massively rigged. Over 300 persons were killed and Martial Law was imposed in four cities of Pakistan before the two sides were persuaded through the good officers of King Khalid to resolve the crisis through negotiations.
The talks began on June 3 after the top PNA leaders were released from two months' detention and an agreement was reached on June 15 to hold fresh elections in October.
But they failed in subsequent talks to agree on details and this ended in a deadlock yesterday. In a broadcast to the nation this evening Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq promised to hold fair and free elections after which he said he will hand over power to the elected representatives of the people. A timetable for the elections will be announced by him shortly, and political activity will be restored before the elections.
For the interim period he has form a caretaker Government with himself as Chief Martial Law Administrator. President Fazal Elahi Chaudhry will continue in office. He will be assisted by a four member Military Council comprising the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Shariff, Air Chief Martial Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Navy Chief Admiral Shariff and Gen. Zia himself.
The Chief Justices of the four provincial High Courts have been appointed Governors of their respective provinces. The provincial administration will be headed by provincial Martial Law Administrators.
The Constitution has not been abrogated, but some of its parts have been put in abeyance.
Civil courts will function as before, but Martial Law Regulations and Orders will not be challengeable in any court.
The Army action began at midnight and ended in the early hours of this morning, less than three hours after Mr Bhutto addressed a Press conference at his residence offering to reopen the dialogue with the Opposition but showing a great deal of reluctance to grant the concessions that the Opposition was asking for fair elections.
According to informed sources, Mr Bhutto heard the Army command conveyed to him at about 2a.m. with complete calm and readily accepted the choice to spend the rest of the night at the Prime Minister's House.
In the morning he was shifted to some undisclosed place, perhaps outside Rawalpindi.
The Federal Ministers, including retired Gen. Tikka Khan and others of the PPP were rounded up from their respective residences and lodged at an Army establishment in Rawalpindi.
The Opposition leaders, who were staying with friends in different localities since arrival here for M11. with Mr Bhutto, were also picked up from homes. They too were believed to have been lodged at the same place. All of them are likely to be shifted to other places shortly.
The report of the Army operation was leaked out on telephone from the houses of the arrested leaders just after 3a.m. But the telephone lines to other cities were not available.
The first official announcement of the operation was announced on the 6am bulletin of Radio Pakistan when it was broadcasting Mr. Bhutto's press conference of last night.
The brief announcement, did not give any details or relevant names, caused wild rumours in the city. This brought out people from their homes in large numbers.
But there was no abnormal presence of troops on the streets. Only outside some of the important buildings were troops stationed.
Life in the city remained normal. Attendance in Government offices and business houses was as usual.
Gen Zia-ul-Haq in his broadcast said he had received encouraging messages on his step. Congratulatory messages have flooded his office, he said, and he thanked the nation and the troops for this.
The first politician to release a Press statement welcoming the step was the Jamaat-i-Islami chief, Mian Tufail Mohammad, who assured Gen. Zia of all cooperation and help to him in keeping the promises be has made in the broadcast.