Nudging President Pervez Musharraf once again, US President George W Bush has said the sooner Pakistan gets off the emergency decree, it will return to the road to democracy and that the beleaguered military ruler must shed his uniform.
As the US Administration announced that it is sending Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Pakistan later this week, Bush said he believes that Musharraf "understands the importance of democracy".
"... President Musharraf has got Pakistan on the road to democracy -- or did. And when I talked to him, I said, 'You got to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy as quickly as possible'," Bush said in an interview to the Business Network of Fox News.
"And that means elections, and that means that, in my judgment, the road to democracy means you can't be the head of the military and the president at the same time".
Noting that "he's (Musharraf) agreed to hold elections in January, and he's agreed to take his uniform off," the US President said "our judgment is that the sooner he can suspend his emergency decree, the faster Pakistan gets back on the road to democracy."
"It's an ever-changing situation. And if you follow the news, like I know you do, it's changing all the time. There's a lot of events taking place.
"And our purpose, of course, is to promote a democracy in Pakistan, and at the same time as a valuable ally in fighting the extremists, who have tried to kill President Musharraf three or four times. He understands the stakes of the war, and I do believe he understands the importance of democracy," Bush said.
Echoing the President, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said the state of emergency has to be ended "as soon as possible", emphasising that the ground situation will have to change before elections can be held in Pakistan and there cannot be restrictions on institutions like the media.
Rice also felt that there is still room for "moderate forces" in Pakistan to work together.
"... It's clearly a difficult situation in Pakistan. And we're just focusing on a few basics. The first is that they need to end the state of emergency as soon as possible," the top administration official said on the Steve Gill radio show.
"Secondly, they're going to need to hold these elections in January. It was a good thing that President Musharraf said that, but they need to hold those elections. And we still think that there is room for moderate forces to work together because they all have a common enemy in the extremists who tried to kill President Musharraf, also who tried to kill Mrs Bhutto," Rice said.
But the most important thing is to get out of the state of emergency so that "something like normal life" can return to Pakistan, the Secretary of State said.
"Well, we are concerned that when the elections take place they have to take place in a different atmosphere than now. You can't have free and fair elections with the kinds of restrictions on the media that you have, with the kinds of restrictions on assembly of opposition. So clearly, some things are going to have to change on the ground before those elections can be held in any state," Rice added.