- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Opposition parties denounced constitutional amendments granting President Pervez Musharraf sweeping powers, calling them a blow to democracy and vowing to repeal them if they win control of Parliament in the October elections.

Analysts said the opposition had little choice but to set aside their differences and try to win control of Parliament in the Oct. 10 ballot.

Meanwhile, in former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's home district of Larkana, members of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) filed papers nominating her to run for a seat in the National Assembly, party leader Mian Raza Rabbani said.

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Later this month, an appeals court will hear a petition by Mrs. Bhutto's attorneys seeking to overturn laws preventing her from running in the elections. The high court of Sindh province yesterday scheduled the hearing for Aug. 27.

During a two-hour news conference Wednesday, Gen. Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, announced he had unilaterally decreed 29 amendments to the constitution, granting himself the power to dismiss Parliament, establishing a National Security Council to oversee the government and extending his stay in office by five years.

In Washington yesterday, the Bush administration said it feared Gen. Musharraf's latest moves would impede Pakistan's return to democracy.

"We believe it is of vital importance that full democratic, civilian rule be restored in Pakistan," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

"We believe that President Musharraf wants to develop strong democratic institutions in his country. However, we are concerned that his recent decisions could make it more difficult to build strong democratic institutions in Pakistan," Mr. Reeker said.

The PPP, believed to be the strongest opposition party in the country, said Gen. Musharraf "might as well declare himself as the absolute monarch for life." The party insisted that only Parliament had the right to change the constitution.

Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy said the next prime minister "will be helpless."

The spokesman for the main Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, said the amendments made a mockery of pledges to restore democracy. Spokesman Ameerul Azeem said the opposition would "undo these amendments if voted into power by the people of Pakistan."

Sadique al-Farooq, spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said his party would use all means short of violence to challenge Gen. Musharraf's rule.

"Now the ball is in the court of all those forces who believe in a true democratic system," he said.

After the 1999 coup, Gen. Musharraf was shunned by the United States and its Western allies. But things changed when he abandoned support for the Afghan Taliban and joined the U.S.-led war against terrorism, allowing the Americans to use bases here and helping track down Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives who fled here last year.

In announcing the amendments, Gen. Musharraf argued that the changes were necessary for stability and accountability in a political culture marked by decades of military government and civilian misrule.

Ben Barber contributed to this report in Washington

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