| Benazir speaks to protesting journalists in Islamabad on Saturday. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Nov. 10 (Reuters): Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto described Pakistan today as a pressure cooker about to explode as senior supreme court judge Rana Bhagwandas was barred yesterday from celebrating Diwali with his brother.
Having invoked emergency powers a week ago, President Musharraf has sacked most of the country’s judges, put senior ones under house arrest and ordered police to round up most of the Opposition leaders and anyone else deemed troublesome.
He has also placed curbs on media. Private news channels are off the air and transmissions of BBC and CNN have been blocked, though newspapers are publishing freely.
“Pakistan under dictatorship is a pressure cooker,” Bhutto said in an address to diplomats at a reception hosted by loyalists at the Senate tonight. “Without a place to vent, the passion of our people for liberty threatens to explode.”
Today, three journalists from Britain’s Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph were expelled for “foul and abusive” language about the Pakistani leaders that officials said appeared in an editorial on November 9.
Bhutto was stopped from leaving her Islamabad residence yesterday to lead a rally in Rawalpindi where police used tear gas to disperse her followers.
A detention order against her was later lifted due to US pressure. However, when she tried today to visit deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest for the past week, she was stopped from approaching his house.
“He is the chief justice, he is the real chief justice,” Bhutto blared over a megaphone, after police trucks blocked her way to Chaudhry’s residence.
Bhutto told diplomats she feared Pakistan was sliding into instability and that “dictatorship causes fanaticism”.”
“They have exacerbated the situation to an extent where nuclear armed Pakistan is threatened with implosion,” she said. “The choice must not be between the military or the militants. The choice must be for the will of the people for democracy,” she added.
President George W. Bush today said that Musharraf knows that the US wants him to end emergency rule and hold elections, but also that the United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting al Qaida.
Bhagwandas, who has refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf, remained under house arrest yesterday as members of his community celebrated Diwali. The judges’ homes have been locked from outside to prevent them from meeting lawyers and family members.
“Bhagwandas spent the day alone in solitary confinement because he refused to support what he considers an unconstitutional action by the military regime,” the Daily Times reported.
The judge was not even allowed to visit his brother’s home in Islamabad. This was in direct opposition to Qayyum’s claims that the judges are free to move wherever they want. Bhagwandas is a very religious person and has never missed celebrating religious festivals. “I used to participate in Diwali every year in Karachi with my family. But this year, I am not even allowed to celebrate it with my brother or community in Islamabad, ” the judge said.