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Old Friday, November 23, 2007
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Arrow Did Pakistan Ease Rule? A Little Test Says No

Did Pakistan Ease Rule? A Little Test Says No

Published: November 22, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 21 — One of Pakistan’s most distinguished jurists and a dissident lawyer approached a police cordon on Wednesday in a residential quarter here, and demonstrated in no time that even though the government claims it is taking steps to ease emergency rule, it remains firmly in place.

The government had broadcast news that the dismissed chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, under house arrest since de facto martial law was declared more than two weeks ago, was now free to move around.

So Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former Supreme Court justice, and a younger lawyer, Athar Minallah, accompanied by a large group of the legal fraternity, turned up at noon where Mr. Chaudhry lives. Confronted by a line of police officers and a curtain of barbed wire, they asked to see him.

They were turned away, proving, they said, that Mr. Chaudhry and other dismissed Supreme Court justices who live in the same area were still captive.

Minutes later, as the pair drove down Constitution Avenue, the broad boulevard of the capital, five men in civilian clothes stopped their car and pulled Mr. Minallah out.

In short order Mr. Minallah, a member of the cabinet of Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the early years of his presidency but now an energetic organizer of lawyers’ protests, was arrested.

“I asked them to produce an order for arrest,” said Mr. Ahmed, describing the scene with the plainclothes officers. “They didn’t produce any order. I said this is not proper. But Athar said: ‘If they want to take me, let them take me.’”

Mr. Minallah was pushed into a police van and hauled off.

Mr. Ahmed, considered one of the most principled of Pakistan’s judges, refused to take the oath of office on the Supreme Court after General Musharraf grabbed power in 1999.

As part of his challenge to General Musharraf, Mr. Ahmed filed a petition in the Supreme Court asserting that the general’s re-election as president in early October was illegal. The petition was rejected Monday by the Supreme Court, which has been packed with Musharraf loyalists since the general’s Nov. 3 emergency decree suspended the Constitution and dismissed the court that was led by Mr. Chaudhry. His court seemed poised to rule against the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election.

Today the most potent critics of General Musharraf remain in jail or under house arrest. These include Mr. Chaudhry as well as the chairman of the Supreme Court bar association, Aitzaz Ahsan.

Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Minallah were intent on showing that even though the government announced Tuesday that 3,416 detainees had been released, this was probably not the case, and that Mr. Chaudhry, in particular, remained under house arrest. The government said 2,000 remained in detention.

Human rights groups and Western diplomats said it was not possible to verify how many people had been freed.

On Wednesday, the government did free a major opposition figure, Imran Khan, a former cricket player and the leader of the Movement for Justice party, who was arrested last week at a student rally, Reuters reported.

Undeterred by the arrest of Mr. Minallah, Mr. Ahmed kept an appointment to address the bar association in Rawalpindi, the satellite city adjacent to Islamabad.

There he was cheered as a hero, showered with red rose petals and greeted with shouts urging General Musharraf’s ouster by several hundred lawyers who work in the city’s criminal and civil district courts.

Mr. Ahmed told the lawyers that the real purpose of the emergency rule was to “destroy the judiciary.” He urged the lawyers to boycott the four provincial High Courts and the Supreme Court.

He also assailed the procedures announced by the government for parliamentary elections on Jan. 8. The turmoil over the elections, including General Musharraf’s declaration that the polling would be held under emergency rule, made them suspect, Mr. Ahmed told the lawyers.

“The kind of elections they are projecting are not elections at all,” he said. “No elections are better than these elections.”

One problem with the election calendar, he said, is that the period between the announcement of the elections and election day is shorter than the 60 days mandated by the law. The period for filing nominating papers for candidates, from Nov. 21 to Nov. 26, is too short, and devised to favor General Musharraf’s party, he said. The opposition political parties are expected to announce soon whether they will take part in the elections or boycott them.

Although the Bush administration has called for free and fair elections, Mr. Ahmed accused the administration of being too lenient toward General Musharraf on the issue of the dismissal of the Supreme Court on Nov. 3.

“None of these things would happen without a wink from the United States administration,” he said of the situation with the courts.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Minallah’s wife, Ghazala Minallah, said she had been told that her husband was in the central jail in Rawalpindi, where Mr. Ahsan, the leader of the lawyers’ movement, is being held.

It was a relief, she said, to know where he was because people arrested by plainclothes officers were often taken to unknown jails. “I’m going to try and take some blankets and comfortable clothes,” she said.

Mr. Ahmed said he would return Thursday to the barricades outside the homes of Mr. Chaudhry and the other former justices under house arrest. “We are going to place bouquets to show our solidarity.”
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