U.S. told to denounce Pakistan, force Musharraf to quit
The former head of the Pakistan Bar Association who faces arrest if he returns home, on Nov. 14 called on the United States and the Pakistani army to withdraw support from embattled President Pervez Musharraf.
“The United States should not compromise its status — it should only support liberty, the rule of law,” Mohammad Akram Sheikh told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
He said Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, who was expected in Pakistan on Nov. 17, “should publicly announce he is not supporting Mr. Musharraf.”
“Withdrawing recognition of General Musharraf will solve our problems,” said Mr. Sheikh, who said his house and office were searched by authorities before he left Pakistan for the United States.
Mr. Sheikh also called on Pakistan’s military to withdraw its support of Gen. Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and still holds the title of army chief.
The army, he said, “should take an institutional decision to tell him not to involve them in politics.” If it took such a stance, said Mr. Sheikh, Gen. Musharraf would be forced to step down.
Police on Nov. 14 arrested cricket legend and opposition leader Imran Khan and later charged him under anti-terrorism laws after he emerged from hiding to join a student protest, press reports from Pakistan said.
He was picked up as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is under house arrest, tried to join with exiled opposition figure, Nawaz Sharif, and forge a united front against Gen. Musharraf.
Like Mrs. Bhutto, Mr. Sharif served two terms as prime minister, and they head Pakistan’s two largest opposition parties. Mr. Sharif, who was overthrown by Gen. Musharraf in a 1999 coup, was exiled to Saudi Arabia.
Concerned about the political upheaval in Pakistan, Switzerland said yesterday that it had suspended export permits for anti-aircraft systems to the country.
The European Union called for an end to the state of emergency, but — like the United States — stopped short of cutting aid, the Reuters news agency said.
Mr. Sheikh was one of the lawyers to take a case on Sept. 5 to the Supreme Court to designate Gen. Musharraf as ineligible to be the country’s president.
Thousands of Pakistani lawyers have been arrested since Gen. Musharraf suspended the constitution and declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3.
Gen. Musharraf on Nov. 14 told the Associated Press that he expected to step down as army chief by the end of this month and begin a presidential term as a civilian. He warned that Pakistan risked chaos if he gave into opposition demands that he resign. He also accused Mrs. Bhutto of fueling the political turmoil.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack welcomed the president’s pledge to take off his uniform but continued to press the Pakistani leader to lift the state of emergency.
“Given the current circumstance, it’s hard to imagine having a free and fair election,” Mr. McCormack said.
Gen. Musharraf has defended his decision to impose emergency rule as the only way to quash terrorism and rein in an out-of-control judiciary.
Mr. Sheikh told The Times prior to heading to a solidarity demonstration by U.S. lawyers in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that 20,000 lawyers had been arrested since the crackdown began.
Pakistani officials have said 2,500 people, including lawyers have been detained.
Hundreds of Washington lawyers walked under sunny skies from a plaza in front of a Library of Congress annex to the Supreme Court in a show of solidarity with Pakistani colleagues.
“I felt compelled to support those Pakistani lawyers who go out each day knowing they will be beaten and brutalized,” said J.E. McNeil, who said she typically avoided such demonstrations.
“At the beginning of Nazi Germany, people did not stand up. In Pakistan, the lawyers are standing up and saying ‘no’ — it makes me proud to be a lawyer,” she said.
The American Bar Association, which sponsored the rally, has sent a letter to Gen. Musharraf — with copies to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson — expressing its concern about the events in Pakistan.
The letter, dated Nov. 6, urged Gen. Musharraf “to restore judicial independence in Pakistan, heed the rulings of the Supreme Court and other judicial authorities, and to leave lawyers and human rights advocates free to do their vital work in defense of the rule of law.”
Willis Witter contributed to this report.
Suited up for a fight: Mohammad Akram Sheikh, former head of the Pakistan Bar Association (center), joined American counterparts outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 14 to protest Pakistan’s crackdown on its judiciary.