NYT : Musharraf Lifts State of Emergency in Pakistan

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Musharraf Lifts State of Emergency in Pakistan

By CARLOTTA GALL | December 15, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf lifted the six-week-old state of emergency and restored the Constitution on Saturday, after passing a flurry of constitutional amendments and decrees to ensure his recent actions would not be challenged by any court.

The removal of the state of emergency restores such fundamental rights as the right of assembly and freedom of movement just three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections and would help ensure that elections are free and fair, said the acting law minister, Afzal Haider. Mr. Musharraf also took oaths from 14 loyal judges on the new Supreme Court on Saturday afternoon, permanently replacing the Supreme Court he dismissed Nov. 3.

In repealing the state of emergency, which many here describe as de facto martial law, Mr. Musharraf has completed a number of steps demanded by his critics at home and abroad, and by the Bush administration, to return the country to the path to democracy. On Nov. 28 he resigned his military post of chief of army staff, ending eight years of military rule.

Yet the lifting of emergency rule will not resolve the tensions in the country, in particular between a large part of the judiciary and the president. Mr. Musharraf’s recent decrees have effectively muzzled the press, curbed the judiciary and made him impregnable before the parliament and the courts, yet they have created deep divisions in society and will further destabilize the country, a group of former ambassadors and foreign secretaries said in an open letter to news organizations.

In a clear move to protect himself from future legal challenges, Mr. Musharraf included in his executive order restoring the Constitution that any provision made during the last six weeks of emergency rule “shall not be called in question by or before any court.” A second order revoking the proclamation of emergency allows the president to issue future orders should problems of implementation arise, which also could not be challenged in any court. Presidential orders usually lapse after three months unless ratified by Parliament, but if issued under a state of emergency they automatically become law.

Under Pakistan’s Constitution, a period of emergency rule usually has to be indemnified by Parliament, yet Mr. Musharraf’s order also appeared to pre-empt any future challenge from Parliament. The latest presidential orders do not need to be ratified by Parliament, because they were introduced under the emergency, Mr. Haider said.

Six constitutional amendments were passed late Friday night, strengthening Mr. Musharraf’s legal position regarding his Oct. 6 re-election and his dismissal of the Supreme Court Nov. 3. Two amendments cleared away discrepancies in the Constitution that had been used by constitutional lawyers in their arguments challenging Mr. Musharraf’s eligibility to run for another presidential term. Another constitutional amendment confirms that the former judges of the Supreme Court who had not taken a new oath under the state of emergency could no longer continue in their jobs, and that the newly sworn judges would replace them. Another amendment created a new High Court, based in the capital, Islamabad, in addition to the existing four provincial high courts.

The amendments were immediately criticized by lawyers. Five judges of the former Supreme Court, including the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, remain detained incommunicado in their official houses close to the president’s office. The four senior lawyers, who have spearheaded the campaign to challenge Mr. Musharraf’s Oct. 6 election to another term, are also under house arrest. Lawyers across the country are boycotting the courts and refusing to work before judges who took a new oath under the emergency, virtually paralyzing judicial proceedings.

Concern about the general stability of the country prompted 23 former ambassadors and foreign secretaries to sign a statement this week calling for Mr. Musharraf to reverse all the steps he has taken since imposing de facto martial law. They pointed out the previous Supreme Court ruled the state of emergency illegal before it was dismissed and its judges placed under house arrest.

“These steps which amount to martial law are unconstitutional and illegal,” the statement said. “Besides undermining the rule of law and delivering a severe blow to the independence of the judiciary, they have dangerously destabilized the country. They also have incurred international opprobrium and badly tarnished Pakistan’s image.” The signatories called on political parties contesting elections to make the reinstatement of the former judges of the Supreme Court and provincial High Courts a top priority.

Mr. Musharraf also signed an ordinance Friday giving him as chairman of the National Command Authority overall responsibility for safeguarding Pakistan’s nuclear material and establishments. The move was only formalizing a system of control set up five years ago, said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, a military spokesman, yet it was another sign that Mr. Musharraf is trying to ensure a continued prominent role for himself as president.

Under Pakistan’s parliamentary system of government, the prime minister is traditionally the position of executive power in the country. Yet under repeated periods of military rule, the president has acquired additional powers, including the power to dismiss Parliament and the elected government. The president also chairs the National Security Council, a body created by Mr. Musharraf.

Five people were killed and six were injured by a suicide bomber on a bicycle Saturday at the gate of an army garrison in the northwestern town of Nowshera. It was the third suicide bombing in the country in two days. Three civilians and two army personnel were killed, General Arshad.