Pakistan's deposed chief justice sharply criticized President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday, calling him an "extremist general" for firing 60 judges and keeping his family — including his disabled 7-year-old son — under house arrest for three months.
Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry's letter, smuggled out of his Islamabad residence and addressed to Western nations, showed how the U.S.-backed leader's harsh attacks on his critics are backfiring — leaving the president in more trouble as he struggles to cling onto power.
Musharraf has seen his popularity plummet since he first tried to fire the chief justice last March. He finally did so Nov. 3 after declaring a state of emergency in which he purged the judiciary when it was about to rule on whether he was eligible for another presidential term.
On a trip to Europe last week, Musharraf launched a propaganda offensive to revive his standing in the West, where he has long been valued as an ally against al-Qaida and Taliban militants. During the tour, he described the judge as "inept and corrupt."
In response, Chaudhry wrote a seven-page letter that was circulated Wednesday at a news conference held by sympathetic lawyers and delivered to the Islamabad embassies of the United States, Britain, France and the European Union. The lawyers would not reveal how they obtained the letter.
In it, Chaudhry questioned Musharraf's legitimacy as head of state and accused him of illegally changing the constitution and "squashing the judiciary for his own personal advantage."
"Is there a precedent in history, all history, of 60 judges including three chief justices being dismissed and arrested at the whim of one man?" Chaudhry wrote. "This incredible outrage has happened in the 21st century at the hands of an extremist general out on a 'charm offensive' of Western capitals and one whom the West supports."
Forbidden to step onto lawn
Perhaps most damaging for Musharraf was Chaudhry's description of his own detention, saying he, his wife and three children — including Balaj Iftikhar, his 7-year-old physically disabled son — are even forbidden to step onto the front lawn of their Islamabad home as it is occupied by police.
"Barbed-wire barricades surround the residence and all phone lines are cut. Even the water connection to my residence has been periodically turned off. I am being persuaded to resign and to forego my office, which is what I am not prepared to do," Chaudhry wrote. He appealed to Western nations to investigate.
Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf's spokesman, dismissed Chaudhry's claim that he was being detained, saying he was in fact illegally occupying an official residence that he has been asked to vacate. Qureshi also rejected Chaudhry's description of the president as an "extremist general."
"The world recognizes him as a moderate and a balanced personality. He has been working for the last eight years to make Pakistan's conservative society into a moderate one," Qureshi said.
Yet it appears that as the political heat has intensified on the Pakistani leader, a former general who took power in a 1999 coup, he has resorted to personal attacks on his rivals and critics.
Musharraf's statements draw criticism
Musharraf recently asserted in an interview with Newsweek magazine that Benazir Bhutto had been unpopular with the army — a comment that raised eyebrows because it came just weeks after she was assassinated.
The president also faced criticism for questioning the patriotism of a veteran Pakistani journalist in London who reported on the escape of a terror suspect. Pakistani media reports say Musharraf, in an address to expatriate Pakistanis, urged them to rough up the reporter.
"Such outbursts do not inspire confidence in his ability to steer the country out of troubled waters," Dawn, the journalist's newspaper, said in an editorial.
Musharraf faces an uncertain political future if opposition parties do well in parliamentary elections Feb. 18. He is also struggling to contain a wave of Islamic militancy that has left about 380 dead this month.
In the latest violence, an explosion at a home in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed three people in what police said was a premature blast by suicide bombers.
And the army said it has retrieved the bodies of 13 paramilitary soldiers who were kidnapped by Taliban militants south of Peshawar.