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Post-Emergency uncertainty in Pak continues

Meanwhile, Bhutto announces she will go ahead with a planned rally in Rawalpindi in defiance of ban orders.

world Updated: Nov 08, 2007 18:29 IST

Political uncertainty continues in Pakistan after the Emergency clamped last Saturday even as former prime minister Benazir Bhutto announced she would go ahead with a planned rally in Rawalpindi on Friday in defiance of ban orders.

In the midst of the political turmoil, the mixed signals from the US are adding to the confusion.

US President George W Bush spoke to President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday evening and told him firmly that he should hold elections in January as planned and quit as army chief.

However, the US is to continue its aid flow to Pakistan -- which has received close to $10 billion since Sep 11, 2001 -- and stick with Musharraf, whom it considers "indispensable".

Deputy Secretary of State John D Negroponte told the House Foreign Affairs Committee: "The bottom line is, there's no question that we Americans have a stake in Pakistan."

"We cannot afford to return to our past estrangement," Negroponte told Congress, reaffirming President Bush's belief that Musharraf has been an "indispensable" ally in the "war on terror".

On the other hand, Bhutto has given Musharraf a Thursday deadline to lift the emergency, reinstate the Supreme Court and high court judges and announce general elections. Else, she will go on a long march on Nov 14, the former premier has threatened.

The local administration has refused to give permission for Bhutto's rally at the historic Liaqat Bagh in Rawalpindi on Friday.

"We cannot give permission for the rally in the present law and order situation. We cannot risk the lives of our citizens," the Rawalpindi administrator said in a statement.

The US State Department has also backed Bhutto's call for mass protests against the Emergency, saying that people should have the right to express themselves.

Another former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, has urged the international community not to side with Musharraf. "Anyone who expresses solidarity or sides with Musharraf in such a crisis can be a friend of Musharraf but not of Pakistan," he said in a statement.

Sharif said that Musharraf should quit both as president and army chief and called for an interim set-up to hold the elections.

Musharraf has said a decision on elections would be taken by Nov 15 but did not say anything about quitting as army chief.

Musharraf had earlier announced he would quit the army chief's position before taking oath as president for another five-year term. He won the Oct 6 presidential election but the Supreme Court stopped the notification.

A 10-member bench of the court was hearing petitions about the election when Musharraf announced imposition of emergency on Nov 3. The service of most of the apex court judges was terminated under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO).

The Supreme Court with many new judges is now likely to take up the petitions early next week, sources in the court told IANS.

While Musharraf has not said when he would lift the Emergency, chief of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, has said it would be lifted "in next three weeks".

Sources have also said that Musharraf has decided to extend the tenure of the present assemblies by a month and elections would be held by the middle of February next year.

The five-year term of national and provincial assemblies ends Nov 15 and according to the constitution, elections are due before Jan 15. However, under the PCO Musharraf has authorised himself to extend the tenure of the assemblies by a maximum of one year.

The National Assembly, which met on Wednesday evening without the opposition, expressed its complete loyalty to Musharraf and endorsed the imposition of Emergency.

Members of all opposition parties had resigned from the National Assembly on Oct 2 in protest against Musharraf's bid for re-election as president.

Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party did not attend the session to protest the Emergency.