The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Martial law buzz as Bhutto flies

Islamabad, Nov. 1: Speculation was rife in Pakistan today about imposition of emergency or martial law as Benazir Bhutto left for Dubai and the government did not insist on a quick Supreme Court ruling on petitions challenging Pervez Musharraf’s re-election.

“We will not allow (the) government to impose emergency or martial law,” top lawyer and newly elected president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Aitzaz Ahsan said outside the court, hearing two petitions challenging the President’s re-election.

Ahsan’s statement came against the backdrop of presiding judge Javed Iqbal’s assertion that nobody could intimidate the court.

“We cannot be influenced by such threats nor should anybody think that the court has been made hostage,” Iqbal said, reacting to statements by Pakistani ministers that any adverse decision against Musharraf could pave the way for martial law.

But many believed possible imposition of emergency or “limited” martial law had forced former Prime Minister Bhutto to leave the country. She was quoted as saying that she was going to see her children and would return by November 8 for a rally in Rawalpindi the next day.

“It is difficult to say what option the government may exercise in view of the deteriorating law and order situation and increasing assaults on personnel of the armed forces by militants,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

The rumours quadrupled after it became clear that the verdict on Musharraf’s re-election, which was likely tomorrow, has been delayed till after November 12.

The court had earlier said that if arguments were not completed by tomorrow, hearing would resume on November 12.

Attorney-general Malik Muhammad Qayyum said he would conclude his arguments tomorrow. The counsel for the federation and the main lawyer for the President will be given time when hearing resumes. They will take a day each. “Our effort was to conclude the case on Thursday,” Iqbal said, blaming the delay on lengthy arguments.

“It seems the government has changed its strategy and there is something black at the bottom,” Ahsan said.

Asked why the government did not push for a quick decision, Qayyum told The Telegraph: “We needed time to speak in detail on all the points raised by Aitzaz Ahsan.”

The government wanted a decision before November 15, when Musharraf’s presidential term expires. The law that allows him to hold dual offices of army chief and President also expires the same day.

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