Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf may shed his uniform and take oath as a civilian president by this weekend, a top official indicated on Wednesday even as the General sought to prevent any legal challenge to the emergency by promulgating an ordinance.
Seeking to avoid diplomatic isolation, Pakistan also asked the Commonwealth to defer a decision on suspending it from the international grouping over the emergency.
The ordinance promulgated by Musharraf amended the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) he had issued on November 3 in his capacity as Army Chief to suspend the Constitution and key fundamental rights.
Under the new amendment, no one will be allowed to challenge the emergency or the PCO in a court, Dawn News channel reported. The amendment said all decisions made by the government during the emergency would also be valid and could not be questioned in a court.
The latest effort by Musharraf to strengthen his position came as senior government officials said he is preparing to doff his uniform and take oath as a civilian president.
"The issue of President Musharraf's uniform is now a matter of days," Attorney General Malik Qayyum said. If the Supreme Court announces its verdict on a petition challenging Musharraf's re-election in uniform Thursday and Friday, the President might doff his uniform by this weekend, Qayyum said and also indicated that the General was likely to take oath as early as Saturday or Sunday.
The military ruler's re-election in the October six presidential poll was challenged in the Supreme Court though five of the six petitions were dismissed by Musharraf's hand-picked judges on November 19. The remaining petition, described by legal experts as a minor one, will be taken up by the apex court on Thursday.
As Musharraf went ahead with his plans, the caretaker government sought to ward off international pressure on him to lift the state of emergency.
In a letter written to heads of governments of the countries that are members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro said the "political situation in Pakistan was returning to normalcy".
The CMAG comprising Foreign Ministers of nine countries including Britain had told Musharraf that Pakistan would be suspended from the Commonwealth if he did not end emergency, shed his uniform and free jailed activists by November 22.
Police, meanwhile, locked the main gate of the residence of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar M Chaudhry to prevent him from stepping out and took into custody two top members of the legal fraternity who tried to meet him despite the government announcing on Monday that there was no restriction on the movement of the sacked judges.
More than 20 journalists, protesting against the media curbs imposed after the clamping of emergency, were arrested in the southwestern city of Quetta.
The authorities, however, have freed 5,634 people detained under emergency rule and that the remaining 623 in custody will also be released, Law Minister Afzal Hayder said.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was also released from the Dera Gazi Khan jail in Punjab province but was continuing his hunger strike for the reinstatement of judges deposed under the emergency.
Musharraf flew back to the country on Wednesday after visiting Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Abdullah and other top officials of the kingdom.
Presidential spokesman Maj Gen (retired) Rashid Qureshi dismissed media reports that Musharraf had travelled to Riyadh to establish contacts with exiled former Premier Nawaz Sharif as "totally fabricated and baseless".
In other related developments, British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley on Wednesday met former premier Benazir Bhutto in Karachi and reiterated the UK's position that Musharraf should restore constitutional order as soon as possible.
After the meeting, Bhutto told reporters until the emergency was lifted, there will be no talks with Musharraf. "I told the High Commissioner that fair and free elections were not possible until there was emergency in the country," she said.