President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday he imposed a controversial state of emergency as a last resort to save Pakistan from destruction.
In a nationally televised address after lifting the emergency earlier in the day, Musharraf said a conspiracy had been hatched by unspecified people, with the involvement of members of the judiciary, to derail the country's transition to democracy. Parliamentary elections, scheduled for Jan. 8, will determine who will form the next government.
"Against my will, as a last resort, I had to impose the emergency in order to save Pakistan," Musharraf said. "The conspiracy was hatched to destabilize the country. I cannot tell how much pain the nation and I suffered due to this conspiracy."
He said he was not initially confident about fending off the conspiracy, but that the state of emergency had been critical to maintaining stability.
"Now the conspiracy has been foiled, and the election will be held on Jan. 8 ... in a free and fair manner," he said in the 20-minute address.
Still, the country faces another grave period, Musharraf said as he warned political parties not to stir up trouble.
"I regret some parties are boycotting the election while there is no justification," Musharraf said. "The electioneering has not started yet, but some parties are talking of rigging. They should refrain from such accusations. People should take part in the electioneering, cast their vote but should not indulge in any negative activity. The country should not be put into any trouble."
The order to lift emergency rule included a controversial clause that enshrined decisions Musharraf made under the emergency, including his dismissal of independent-minded judges. Such decisions "shall not be called into question by or before any court," the clause said.
"Musharraf's so-called return to constitutional rule provides legal cover to laws that muzzle the media and lawyers and gives the army a license to abuse," said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Sworn in again
The group urged the U.S. and Britain to pressure Musharraf "to insist on a genuine return to constitutional rule and the restoration of the judiciary."
Saturday's order required judges, including those appointed by Musharraf during the emergency, to take the oath of office again. He swore in the Supreme Court's chief justice, then sat solemnly as the justice administered the oath to the rest of the court.
A leader of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party praised the end of the emergency but said it did not completely dispel concerns about the fairness of the elections.
"It is a good step, but let's see whether the elections are free, fair and transparent," Makhdoom Amin Fahim said.
He did not rule out cooperation with Musharraf if widespread cheating is avoided.
"But so far, it does not appear that the elections would be held in a fair manner," Fahim said. "All the government machinery is being exploited for foul play."
Liaquat Baloch, a senior leader of the opposition coalition Muttaheda Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum, called Musharraf's move a "fraud," saying judges dismissed by the president have not been restored and the constitution was altered under the emergency.
"Musharraf had two targets, getting through the illegal process of his elections and purging the judiciary of independent-minded judges, and he achieved both targets," Baloch said.
Musharraf has insisted that the Supreme Court, which had been poised to rule on the legality of his October re-election, was acting beyond the constitution.
But steps he took Friday to tweak the constitution appeared to confirm the opinion of many legal experts that the president's case had been weak.
The president removed a condition from the constitution stating that civil servants, including army officers, had to wait two years after their retirement before running for elected office, Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum told The Associated Press.
Musharraf stepped down as army chief only last month.
Qayyum said other changes sealed the retirement of purged Supreme Court judges, including former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who either refused or were not invited to sign a fresh oath after the emergency. Their replacements swiftly approved Musharraf's re-election in October by a Parliament stacked with his supporters.
Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamic party, withdrew its 130 candidates for Parliament and 450 nominations for provincial assemblies in protest against Musharraf's dismissal of judges, spokesman Ameerul Azim said.
"This is a fraud election. We are boycotting unless the judges are restored," he said.
Qayyum said Musharraf was considering whether to grant an opposition demand for the suspension of mayors to prevent them from influencing the elections, and whether to lift a ban on anyone serving more than twice as prime minister. That could ease his fraught relations with opposition leaders and archrivals Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
However, Sen. Raza Rabbani of Bhutto's party said removing the mayors less than four weeks before the elections was a gesture to appease the international community.
Both Musharraf and his Western backers say they want the election to produce a stable, moderate government strong enough to stand up to a wave of Islamic militancy.
However, Musharraf has clamped down on independent media and purged the judiciary, prompting Bhutto and Sharif to warn of mass demonstrations if they think the vote has been rigged in favor of pro-Musharraf rivals.