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Elections in Jan: Mush
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

President Pervez Musharraf on Sunday announced that the elections would be held in the first week of January, but declined to give date for ending emergency saying he needs it to combat terrorism.

He reiterated to reporters here that he would relinquish army post after the Supreme Court vacates embargo on the notification of his election. He said a caretaker government would be installed on November 15 when the National Assembly’s five-year term expires. The provincial assemblies would be dissolved on November 20, he added.

Musharraf contested impression created in the west about popularity of former premier Benazir Bhutto and he would not enter into any negotiations with her till after elections.

He said she had little support in rural areas and her public standing had seriously eroded because of various statements she made about A.Q. Khan, foreign military intervention, etc.

The General indulged in a long tirade against deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry holding him responsible for the crisis that prompted him to impose emergency. Rejecting any rapprochement with him, he further ruled out reinstatement of judges who have not taken oath under Provision Constitution Order.

He justified media curbs and made no commitment to open private TV channels that have been kept off air for the past eight days since the imposition of emergency. He said a code of conduct had been prescribed for the media to ensure it acts “responsibly”. He left an impression that only those channels would be allowed to operate that submit to the code.

He said some channels and anchors of these channels indulge in slander, glorying terrorists, ridiculing, defaming and humiliating national leadership.

However, he defended the arrests of political leaders, lawyers and others since the imposition of emergency and said nobody would be allowed to disrupt law and order under the prevailing critical situation in the country.

“I expect the detained people to be released but they would have to remain within legal limits,” he added.

Asked how he could expect people to believe the elections would fair and free when emergency is in force, political leadership locked up and judiciary completely mauled, Musharraf said these measures were taken in larger national interest to prevent efforts to derail democracy.

“I will remain above board and neutral as President and accept anybody who wins majority to form the government,” he said, adding that all political parties would be free to participate in the election process.

“The emergency is aimed at fighting terrorism and would not target politicians,” he said but warned that nobody would be spared who disrupts peace and order.

On the expulsion of three British journalists, he feigned ignorance of the reasons for the order till he read the editorial of Daily Telegraph that provoked the expulsion. He said the language used against him violated all norms of civility and could not be tolerated in any country.

Musharraf said he had always acted according to the constitution and had fulfilled all his promises. He repeated reasons for imposing emergency saying the judiciary was encroaching on executive’s authority that paralysed administration, demoralised law enforcing agencies and encouraged militancy and terrorism.

He dismissed criticism by foreign countries insisting he acted only in the national interest and would not accept pressure from any quarter. He was confident that western nations would not cut off aid because there was no justification for that. He said Pakistan’s foreign friends would understand ground realities in this country and appreciate that his actions were aimed at preserving the process of democracy.

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Security agencies get sweeping powers

President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday amended the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, with retrospective effect from 2003 giving sweeping powers to security agencies to arrest, interrogate or try civilians in military courts.

The government claimed that the new ordinance was close to the US Patriot Law and was designed to effectively combat terrorism.

Musharraf denied at his news briefing that his critics and opponents of the government would be victimised under the amended Act. He said the Act would be used only against suspected terrorists.

Attorney general Qayyum Malik told reporters that the people suspected of targeting military personnel and installations could be interrogated by the army and their cases could be sent to the military courts. However, the police could not arrest such people and only the army would deal with them.

To a question, he said the sentences mentioned in the army Act for the serious offences had not been altered.

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