ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Protesters shouted "Shame on You!" as baton-wielding police empowered by Pakistan's state of emergency violently broke up a rally Sunday and rounded up hundreds of opposition activists nationwide. The government said parliamentary elections could be delayed by up to a year, as it tries to stamp out a growing Islamic militant threat.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — joining a host of foreign governments expressing concern about Pakistan's decision to suspend its constitution — said Washington was reviewing billions of dollars (euros) in aid to its close terrorism-fighting ally. Britain was also examining its aid package.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said up to 500 people had detained nationwide in the last 24 hours.
Among them were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency and a staunch critic of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Around 200 police with assault rifles and sticks stormed the rights commission's office in the eastern city of Lahore, breaking up a meeting and arresting about 50 members, said Mehbood Ahmed Khan, legal officer for the activists.
"They dragged us out, including the women," he said from the police station. "It's inhuman, undemocratic and a violation of human rights to enter a room and arrest people gathering peacefully there."
Musharraf, a 1999 coup leader who had promised to hand over his army fatigues and become a civilian president this year, said he had to impose emergency rule to prevent the country from slipping into anarchy.
But critics say it was a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.
His leadership is threatened by an Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which was expected to rule soon on the validity of his recent presidential election win. Hearings scheduled for next week were postponed with no new date set.
Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum denied claims by Bhutto and others that Musharraf had imposed martial law — direct rule by the army — under the guise of a state of emergency. He noted the prime minister was still in place and that the legislature would complete its term next week.
Crucial parliamentary elections had been scheduled for January, but Prime Minister Aziz said at a press conference that the polls could be delayed by up to a year. Asked how long the extraordinary measures would be in place, he said, "as long as it is necessary."
In Islamabad, phone service that was cut Saturday evening appeared to have been restored by Sunday morning. But television news networks other than state-controlled Pakistan TV remained off the air.
Scores of paramilitary troops blocked access to the Supreme Court and parliament. Otherwise streets in the capital appeared largely calm, with only a handful of demonstrations. But one, attended by 40 people at the Marriott Hotel, was broken up by baton-wielding police.
"Shame on you! Go Musharraf go!" the protesters shouted as officers dragged some out of the crowd and forced them to the ground. Eight were taken away in a van.
Others were apathetic. Standing at on a dusty street corner in Islamabad, Togul Khan, 38, said he didn't care about the emergency declaration.
"What's the point of talking about this," said the day laborer, who was waiting to be hired for work. "For us, life stays the same, even when politicians throw Pakistan into the sky, spin it around and watch as it crashes back down to earth."
Western allies had urged Musharraf not to take authoritarian measures despite his country's recent political turmoil and violence.
Security forces are struggling to contain pro-Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants who have gained control of large tracts of the volatile northwest near Afghanistan. Violence has reached major cities with deadly suicide attacks in Islamabad and Karachi underscoring the failure of Musharraf's administration to combat the threat.
The U.S. has provided about US$11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf made a strategic shift to ally with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. Rice told reporters that Washington would review its aid in light of the new emergency measures, though the Pentagon earlier said the emergency rule would not affect its military support to the Muslim nation.
"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her in the Middle East. "We just have to review the situation."
A spokesman of Britain's Foreign Office said it would also "consider the implications of the situation for our development and other programs in Pakistan." He spoke anonymously in line with department policy.
Pakistan is scheduled to receive a total of 480 million pounds (US$1 billion; euro690 billion) in assistance over the next three years, the Foreign Office said.
Musharraf, looking somber and composed, said in his televised address late Saturday that Pakistan was at a "dangerous" juncture, and that its government was threatened by Taliban and al-Qaida linked militants who have expanded their reach beyond traditional border areas to the capital and beyond.
He also blamed the Supreme Court for tying the hands of the government by postponing the validation of his recent election. The court was expected to rule soon on opponents' claims that Musharraf's Oct. 6 victory was unconstitutional because he contested while army chief.
Bhutto, who narrowly escaped assassination in an Oct. 18 suicide bombing that killed 145 others, scoffed at claims that Musharraf imposed the emergency measures to fight Islamic militants — even though Muslim insurgents were widely blamed for the attempt on her life.
"Many people in Pakistan believe that it has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and it has everything to do with stopping a court verdict that was coming against him," she told the weekend edition of ABC News' "Good Morning America."
Musharraf replaced the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who had emerged as the main check on the his power. Aitzaz Ahsan, a lawyer who represented the judge, also was arrested.
Musharraf's emergency order suspended the 1973 constitution. Seven of the 17 Supreme Court judges immediately rejected the order, and only five agreed to take the oath of office under the new provisional constitution.
Musharraf issued two ordinances toughening media laws, including a ban on live broadcasts of "incidents of violence and conflict." Also, TV operators who "ridicule" the president, armed forces, and other powerful state bodies face up to three years in jail.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the U.S. will review aid to Pakistan and denied that the Bush administration has "put all its chips" on Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
A leading Democratic senator on foreign affairs said U.S. hands are "pretty well tied right now" because the administration "has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy."
While Rice's announcement puts in question some of the billions in U.S. assistance to a close terrorism-fighting ally, a Republican lawmaker urged President Bush, silent so far, to speak out "in more specific terms" and suggested that Pakistan's shift from democratic, civilian rule could jeopardize U.S. military support.
On a Mideast trip now overshadowed by the unfolding crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Rice indicated the U.S. would not suspend aid wholesale.
The U.S. has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf allied his presidency with Washington after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her. "We just have to review the situation. But I would be very surprised if anyone wants the president to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism."
The top U.S. diplomat said she had not spoken directly with Musharraf since his announcement Saturday to suspend the constitution, oust the country's top judge and deploy troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism. She has decried those "extraconstitutional" moves.
"I'm disappointed in his decision, sure," Rice said. "I think his decision sets Pakistan back in the considerable progress it made toward democratic change."
The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in August that less than 10 percent of the U.S. aid total since 2001 has gone to economic and social projects.
Rice cited such assistance, particularly for education, when she told reporters that the U.S. has looked beyond Musharraf and made a choice to support what had seemed to be an increasingly democratic nation at a critical time.
"The United States did not put all its chips on Musharraf," Rice said.
Yet that is precisely what the U.S. under Bush has done, asserted Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"This administration has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy. It's tied to Musharraf. ... Its hands are pretty well tied right now. And it's put itself in a very difficult position, and in turn us in a difficult position," said Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Bush should speak out forcefully. "We have bolstered Musharraf with billions of dollars in recent years, and military support, and we ought to be specific that it's not going to continue," the senator said.
"I wouldn't support Pakistan with U.S. aid here. He's doing everything which is against democracy. Seizing the Supreme Court is just outlandish. What he's done is declared himself the dictator," Specter said. "And he hasn't been helping us enough on terrorism, so that I think we ought to get very tough with him and try to drive him into line."
Freezing military aid is worth considering, added Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Yet after Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, a Pentagon spokesman traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Asia said the declaration "does not impact our military support of Pakistan" or its efforts in fighting terrorism.
Like the United States, Britain is weighing whether to reconsider the substantial aid it has pledged to the South Asian nation. A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain would "consider the implications of the situation for our development and other programs in Pakistan." He spoke anonymously in line with department policy.
The review cited by Rice would look in part at whether some current aid cannot continue because of U.S. legal restrictions that set conditions for governments to receive money. That probably would cover only a small amount of the total aid, which now runs to about $150 million each month.
The U.S. has been a leading supplier of military aid to Pakistan since suspending penalties against the country in recognition of its support in the fight against terrorism after the 2001 attacks. Washington had placed the restrictions in 1990 after the discovery of Pakistan's program to develop nuclear weapons.
Biden said he believes Musharraf's military is in firm control of the country's nuclear arsenal and does not think that is a cause for concern now.
Several lawmakers expressed concern about the possibility that extremists could find their way to power — and then control that arsenal.
Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, also a 2008 White House hopeful, faulted the U.S. administration "for loading up Musharraf with too much for him to probably carry" after shifting focus from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Dodd said the U.S. needs to work with Musharraf "to find out how we can move from the position he has put himself in today to a more open process here that allows for possibly a coalition government to emerge."
He added, "We had better do it aggressively. We had better start re-shifting our emphasis here or we are going to find ourselves in a much larger problem than exists already."
A top Republican presidential candidate, Fred Thompson, said the U.S. must "play hardball" with Musharraf, including a potential aid cutoff. Yet such action, he said, must take into account the realization that Musharraf "is an ally in a very sparsely populated place as far as allies are concerned."
Biden appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS, Thompson on "Meet the Press" on NBC and Feinstein, Specter and Dodd on "Late Edition" on CNN.