Analysts doubt change after Pakistan emergency ends—>AFP Report

They say he looks unlikely to ease media curbs or restore ousted judges, meaning the end of the emergency — hotly demanded by the international community before elections next month — will have little practical impact.

“Can a person change the constitution? That issue will persist, no matter whether the emergency is withdrawn or not,” said Hasan Askari, a political analyst and the former head of political science at Punjab University.

He called lifting emergency rule a “public relations exercise” aimed at making the West feel more comfortable about the elections, even though many critics insist the vote will be neither free nor fair.

“The exercise will simply be to show to the West that he has returned to constitutional rule and is moving a step closer to democracy,” Askari said.

“The current controversies will persist and for all operational purposes, the end of emergency will not make any real difference.”

Citing Islamist violence and what he said was an interfering judiciary, Musharraf imposed emergency rule on November 3. The constitution was suspended, and thousands of people were arrested across the country.

The independent-minded head of the Supreme Court was one of many judges given the sack. A new and strict code of conduct effectively barred many media from criticising Musharraf or the armed forces.

Most of those arrested have since been released but some prominent lawyers — including the president of the Supreme Court’s bar association — are still in detention.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s media regulator reaffirmed this week that any live TV broadcasts remain banned. The restriction, which includes phone-in chat shows, is aimed at muzzling the president’s critics, the journalists union says.

Unless the ousted judges are returned and the media curbs lifted, ending the state of emergency will be “meaningless,” said Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at Lahore’s University of Management and Sciences.

“I do not think that the state of oppression is going to disappear,” Rais said, alleging that the president had “disfigured” the constitution with his decrees.

“If the judiciary is not independent, how can one expect them to deliver on fundamental rights? Lifting the emergency without reinstatement of the pre-emergency judiciary would be meaningless.

“Lifting emergency rule will not make much of a difference for the victims of emergency.”

The imposition of emergency rule triggered domestic and international uproar against Musharraf, a key ally in the US “war on terror”.

While he has already been re-elected as president — a vote in October that itself was controversial — the January 8 polls will determine the makeup of the next parliament, which could have a bearing on Musharraf’s plans.

Under the constitution as written, no changes can be made without a two-thirds majority of lawmakers.

Musharraf’s critics say he badly needs that majority to indemnify himself from what they insist were the unlawful changes he decreed.

But Attorney General Malik Qayyum told AFP that the Supreme Court — which has been purged of anti-Musharraf judges — had already validated his extraordinary legal orders.

“The constitution will be restored and emergency rule will come to an end on Saturday,” Qayyum said.

Najim Sethi, a columnist and editor of a leading local English newspaper, the Daily Times, said he believed the courts could still decide to fight back once the emergency order is lifted.

“Media restrictions will no longer be unchallengable,” he said. “Challenges to both Musharraf and the political parties will be entertained by the courts.”