Pakistan emergency likely to end in 2-3 weeks: official

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf will likely end emergency rule in two to three weeks

The president of the country's ruling party made the announcement in a newspaper today.

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Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain -- President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, a former prime minister and member of General Musharraf's inner circle -- said the president understood the ramifications of failing to lift the widely criticized measure.

"I'm sure it will end in two to three weeks as President Pervez Musharraf is aware of the consequences of long emergency rule," Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, said in the Dawn's Wednesday edition.

Officials have said national elections will still take place in January, but Musharraf has not yet said when the vote will be held or when the emergency will end.

Pakistani opposition parties will discuss on Wednesday how to overturn emergency rule, hoping to capitalize on international disapproval over the detention of growing numbers of lawyers and political opponents.

Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, in her strongest comments since Musharraf assumed emergency powers on Saturday, said the world must make Pakistan's military leader revoke his measures or tell him to quit.

"If he doesn't, then I believe that the international community must choose between the people of Pakistan and him," Bhutto said in an interview with Britain's Channel 4 News.

Bhutto, who arrived in the capital Islamabad on Tuesday, was due to meet leaders of smaller parties on Wednesday -- though several have been detained.

She has not yet mobilized her people power on the streets, but said her party will stage a protest rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi next to Islamabad, on November9.

The United States and Britain were joined by the 27-nation European Union in urging Musharraf to release all political detainees, including members of the judiciary, relax media curbs, and seek reconciliation with political opponents.

The EU said Musharraf should stick to a pledge to step down as army chief this month and hold elections in January.

The Commonwealth, a 53-nation group of mainly former British colonies, called a special ministerial meeting in London next week to discus the state of emergency in Pakistan.

Nuclear weapons

Washington has said it will review aid to Pakistan, which has reached nearly USD10 billion since the Sept 11 attacks.

But it has yet to come up with a clear stance for dealing with a nuclear-armed country which is on the frontline in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

A White House spokeswoman said President George W. Bush had not telephoned Musharraf since he imposed emergency rule and described the general's act as "a mistake".

Critics of Musharraf's decision to declare emergency rule -- a move which thwarted U.S. hopes of a transition to civilian-led democracy through elections due in January -- say he may have made Pakistan more unstable.

Bhutto said militants had taken control of the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan -- raising the possibility of the country fragmenting under the control of warlords.

"God alone knows what would happen to our nuclear weapons in such a scenario," she said.

While hundreds of opposition activists have been detained, primarily from the party of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Islamist groups, the political parties have yet to order their supporters on to the streets.

Protests so far have been led by a lawyers' movement, outraged by the dismissal of independent-minded judges, like ousted chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is being held incommunicado at his residence in Islamabad.

Announcing the emergency and suspension of the constitution last Saturday, Musharraf said he was being hampered by a hostile judiciary and fighting rising militancy.

But ordinary Pakistanis were unconvinced.

"This is not emergency; this is hooliganism," said Haji Hafeezur Rehman, a merchant from the north.