Apparently bowing to public pressure, the Pakistani government categorically stated on Thursday it was not considering the imposition of an emergency to tackle the uncertain political situation in the country.
"President Pervez Musharraf respects the will of the people. No emergency will be declared," Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told reporters in Islamabad.
The statement came after Musharraf met his key political and military aides Thursday morning to resume from where a similar meeting Wednesday evening had left off.
Informed sources in Islamabad said that the meeting essentially considered two options: declaring a state of emergency or imposing martial law in the country.
Both proposals were hotly debated and revealed the deep divisions between Musharraf's political aides, political analysts said.
With no clear-cut decision emerging, Musharraf then decided to maintain the status quo - at least for the time being, the analysts added.
What could also have tilted the balance, it was pointed out, was a telephone call US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made to Musharraf early Thursday morning.
In Washington, a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation, refused to discuss the substance of the 17-minute conversation that began shortly after 2 am on Thursday (Pakistan time).
The call followed comments by State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack, who said Washington understood Musharraf's abrupt decision to skip a visit to Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday to attend a key Pakistan-Afghan tribal conclave.
"President Musharraf certainly wouldn't stay back in Islamabad if he didn't believe he had good and compelling reasons to stay back," McCormack told a regular briefing. "Certainly we would understand that."
Meanwhile, in a major setback for Musharraf, the Pakistani Supreme Court has castigated the government for ignoring its 2003 order permitting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shabbaz Sharif to return home from exile in Saudi Arabia.
"Why is the government defying the court's orders?" Chief Justice Ifthikar Mohammad Chowdhry asked, while issuing notice to the government on a petition filed by the former prime minister seeking an unhindered return home.
Musharraf had sacked Chowdhry in March citing irregularities and this had triggered countrywide protests by lawyers and the common public, in effect fuelling the already volatile political situation in the country.
Chowdhry had contested his removal and the Supreme Court reinstated him last month.
Rumours have been circulating for the past few days about the possibility of Musharraf declaring a state of emergency and the rumours reached a flashpoint on Wednesday evening.
"Speculation about the possibility of a resort to such a desperate move began after the president cancelled a visit to Kabul and did not abate even after some government spokesmen either denied or said they were unaware of such a move," Dawn said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has instead gone to Kabul to lead the Pakistan delegation at the conclave that will consider ways to peacefully deal with the raging militancy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The speculation was also fuelled by the prospect of an early return home of exiled former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif "and its impact on the political climate in the country where many parliament members could switch loyalties and cloud Gen Musharraf's desire to get himself elected as president for another term from the present assemblies", Dawn said.
The president had previously been denying any intention to resort to declaring an emergency, which can be imposed under the constitution's articles 232 and 233 that deal with political activities, press freedom and other fundamental rights granted under articles 15, 16, 17 and 19.
The government came under heavy criticism during a law and order debate by the National Assembly last week, particularly in the light of last month's military operation to clear Islamabad's Lal Masjid and the adjoining Jamia Hafsa madrassah of militants seeking to enforce their brand of an Islamic code in the country - and a subsequent wave of suicide bombings killing civilians and security personnel.
The law and order situation also figured during a foreign policy debate that was stretched to a fourth day Wednesday.
Law and Justice Minister Mohammad Wasi Zafar and presidential spokesperson Major-General (retired) Rashid Qureshi denied any decision had been taken to impose an emergency.