ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The government of embattled Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said today it may impose a state of emergency because of “external and internal threats” and deteriorating law and order in the volatile northwest near the Afghan border.
Tariq Azim, minister of state for information, said talk from the United States about the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan “has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public.” He mentioned Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama by name as an example of someone who made such comments, saying his recent remarks were one reason the government was debating a state of emergency.
But it appeared the motivation for a declaration of an emergency would be the domestic political woes of Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism who took power in a 1999 coup.
His popularity has dwindled, and his standing has been badly shaken by a failed bid to oust the country’s chief justice – an independent-minded judge likely to rule on expected legal challenges to Musharraf’s bid to seek a new five-year presidential term this fall.
The Pakistani government’s comments on a possible emergency declaration came hours after Musharraf abruptly announced he was canceling a planned trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, today to attend a U.S.-backed tribal peace council aimed at curtailing cross-border militancy by the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The decision to cancel the trip appeared linked to the government’s deliberations over declaring a state of emergency.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at length with Musharraf in a call that took place in the early hours today in Pakistan, a senior State Department official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, refused to discuss the substance of the 17-minute conversation.
During a state of emergency, the government can restrict the freedom to move, rally, engage in political activities or form groups and impose other limits such as restricting the parliament’s right to make laws or even dissolving parliament.