The Pakistani leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, suspending the country’s Constitution, firing the chief justice of the Supreme Court and filling the streets of the capital with police officers.
The move appeared to be an effort by General Musharraf to reassert his fading power in the face of growing opposition from the country’s Supreme Court, civilian political parties and hard-line Islamists. Pakistan’s Supreme Court was expected to rule within days on the legality of General Musharraf’s re-election last month as the country’s president, which opposition groups have said was improper.
The declaration also directly defied the Bush administration, which had repeatedly urged General Musharraf not to institute emergency rule and was pushing him to move toward democracy. Washington has generously backed the general, whom it has called a close ally in fighting terrorism, sending him more than $10 billion in aid since 2001, mostly for the military.
In a rambling, 45-minute speech broadcast on state run television after midnight, General Musharraf said he had declared the emergency “in order to preserve the democratic transition that I initiated eight years back.”
The day before, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, Adm. William J. Fallon, told General Musharraf and his top generals in a meeting here that declaring emergency rule would jeopardize American financial support for the Pakistani military. And on Saturday, American officials bluntly condemned the declaration. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded a “quick return to constitutional law. ” In Washington, the White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said, “This action is very disappointing,” and called on General Musharaff to honor his pledge to resign as army commander and hold nationwide elections before Jan. 15.