ISLAMABAD (AFP). August 9, 2007. Embattled President Pervez Musharraf decided Thursday not to impose a state of emergency in Pakistan, ignoring the advice of aides who wanted strong action to prevent more instability in the troubled nation
The military ruler, facing the greatest challenge to his leadership since he seized power in a 1999 coup, opted against the move, which would have postponed elections, Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani told AFP.
"President Musharraf has decided not to impose the state of emergency in the country as suggested by some political parties and others," Durrani said.
"The decision was taken because the priority of the president and present government is to have free, fair and impartial elections in line with the constitutional requirements," he said.
Musharraf has been facing public anger over his suspension, since overturned in court, of the country`s chief justice -- which critics saw as an attempt to remove any legal obstacles to keeping the dual positions of president and head of the military.
Mass protests over the attempted suspension, mounting criticism of his government`s handling of militants along the Afghan border and efforts by rivals to come back from exile to contest the election have put him under fire.
A new poll released Thursday by a Washington think-tank, the International Republican Institute, showed the majority of Pakistanis want Musharraf to step down as head of the army.
It found that 62 percent of Pakistanis thought he should resign as army chief, while 59 percent said elections held while he continues to wear his military uniform were unlikely to be free and fair.
Imposing emergency rule would have automatically extended the tenure of the current parliament for another 12 months, meaning a delay in elections to be held later this year or early in 2008.
But following the upheavals over his move against the chief justice, and the bloodshed surrounding a siege of a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad several weeks ago that left dozens dead, some wanted him to clamp down.
Aides had argued that Pakistan could not afford further instability.
By rejecting their advice, Musharraf may have denied ammunition to political rivals such as exiled former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who have signalled their intention to return home to contest the elections.
Pakistan`s Supreme Court on Thursday began deliberating Sharif`s application to have his exile overturned and be permitted to return to the country.
Sharif lodged his appeal earlier this month to end seven years of exile which began when he was overthrown by Musharraf in October 1999.
Sharif still officially heads his faction of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League party from exile, while Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile, is the leader of the centrist Pakistan People`s Party.
The rumblings about emergency rule coincided with Musharraf`s decision, announced Wednesday, to pull out of a key three-day tribal council in Kabul which began Thursday, aimed at ending Taliban and Al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism.
Musharraf told Afghan President Hamid Karzai he could not attend due to "engagements in the capital," opting to send Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in his place.
A government official told AFP that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the tribal council meeting with Musharraf by telephone Wednesday.
Musharraf has been angered by accusations from Washington that Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and a regrouped Taliban, and that its actions against militant bases are inadquate.