The emergency rule came as the country's Supreme Court was just a few days away from issuing its verdict on whether it was legal for Musharraf to run for president while still serving as army chief.
Last month, he was reelected by an overwhelming majority of supporters in the national and provincial assemblies, many of whom critics say ascended to power through sham elections in 2002.
Protesting the general's decision to run for president, the opposition boycotted the polls and asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The judges then ordered that official results be withheld until the verdict was out.
Analysts believe Musharraf learned that the court planned to rule against him, and imposed a preemptive emergency rule -- ostensibly to crack down on religious extremists.
However, reports coming from Pakistan suggest the first targets of police raids were not Taliban supporters or Muslim zealots, but members of the legal community and independent Human Rights Commission, as well as many secular and liberal democratic leaders and activists.
Some 3,000 lawyers and activists remain in detention, with no recourse since the court system has ground to a halt, as well as 55 members of the right commission, about half of whom are women. They include Asma Jehangir, chair of the commission and the UN special rapporteur on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, along with her sister.
On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement urging Pakistani authorities to release all the detainees. He said he was "greatly concerned" about the imposition of emergency rule and restrictions on the media.
Other world leaders have also condemned Musharraf's actions. In a strongly-worded statement, the European Union deplored the emergency rule, and hinted at possible suspension of its aid to Pakistan. British officials say such sanctions are "under review", but added that "now is not the time for threats to aid for the Pakistani people".
In his speech on state television Saturday, Gen. Musharraf tried hard to create an impression that his decision would prove effective in the so-called war on Islamic extremism.
On Monday, in his only public comments on the crisis so far, Bush urged Musharraf to "restore democracy as quickly as possible", but said the two countries would "continue to work together to fight terrorism", a statement that many democracy activists in and outside Pakistan read as a mixed signal from Washington.
"Lawyers and civil society will challenge the government and the scene is likely to get uglier," said a leading rights activist who is under house arrest in Lahore. "We want friends of Pakistan to urge the U.S. administration to stop all support of the insatiable dictator."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the Bush administration must to put an end to its military aid to the regime in Islamabad.
"Washington's long support for a military government has merely led to an unprecedented political crisis that could lead Pakistan to disaster," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director. "This is as big a test for the Bush administration as it is for Musharraf."
In return for its cooperation in the so-called "global war on terror," the Musharraf regime has become a top recipient of U.S. aid, according to the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity, an independent policy think tank.
As the Centre's researcher Sarah Fort points out, three years before the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan received more than $9 million. But three years later, it got about $5 billion in military aid. On a visit to the U.S. in 2006, Musharraf said he decided to join the war on terror after threats from Washington.
Administration officials deny this account, and have begun accusing Musharraf of turning a blind eye to Taliban and al Qaeda operations in his own country. Critics in the U.S. and abroad have also assailed the alliance as a devil's bargain.
Pakistan is the sixth most populous nation in the world, and the second largest Muslim-majority country after Indonesia. Violence and political instability have characterised the country since its creation in 1947 as a result of the partition of India by the British.
For much of its 60-year history, Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators, all of them backed by Washington. All have attempted to create civilian facades to keep the genuinely popular political leaders at bay.
Speaking last Saturday, Musharraf argued that his actions were meant to bring the country back on a democratic track, but critics say the emergency measures are a direct assault on Pakistan's judiciary, its vibrant human rights community, and peaceful political dissent.
"Measures that have been portrayed as necessary to protect Pakistan are in fact a wholesale abrogation of fundamental human rights protections and dismantle the very institutions and checks and balances that underpin the country's stability," said Amnesty's Khan.
Musharraf has suspended the country's constitution and imposed new rules that bar any court from issuing orders against him or anyone exercising powers under his rule. Human rights defenders say these actions are a flagrant breach of international norms.
The suspension of judges and their effective house arrest, according to Amnesty, "plainly violate" core provisions of the UN Principles for the Independence of the Judiciary, because judges may not be removed by the executive, except in cases of incapacity or if they are unfit to discharge their duty.
Amnesty said it fears that this assault on key institutions of accountability, combined with sweeping emergency powers, will exacerbate existing patterns of human rights abuse, including torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and use of excessive force to suppress peaceful dissent.
Meanwhile, the UN's top human rights official, Louise Arbour, issued a statement demanding that authorities "clarify" the status of those behind bars.
"A state of emergency should only be used to deal with a dire security threat to the nation, not to undermine the integrity and independence of the judiciary," Arbour added.
Shortly before their suspension and detention by Musharraf, the Supreme Court judges had declared the emergency an unconstitutional and illegal act.
Meanwhile, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) sent an open letter to Musharraf saying it is "very worried" about the fate of more than 55 Human Rights Commission activists. The well-respected rights group based in Paris works closely with the Pakistani human rights defenders.
"We request you to immediately proceed to lifting these measures and avoid any further action of repression and harassment against human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, other activists, and members of political parties," FIDH said in the letter.
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Albion Monitor November
7, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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