Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf decided on Thursday against declaring a state of emergency and will press ahead with plans to hold elections, a government minister said.
Pakistani media had reported that the military leader would impose emergency rule to deal with rising violence and political instability - a move that a senior government official confirmed was under consideration.
Musharraf met with legal experts, security and political officials on Thursday, a presidential aide told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
After speaking to Musharraf by telephone, apparently following those meetings, Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said the president was committed to holding free and fair elections.
"There were suggestions from the ruling coalition and also from certain other political entities that there is a requirement of emergency in the country. But these suggestions were obviously discussed and ultimately it was decided that it this is not the time," Durrani told The Associated Press.
The standing of Musharraf, a key ally in Washington's fight against terrorism who took power in a 1999 coup, has been badly shaken by a failed bid to oust the country's independent-minded chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who is likely to rule on legal challenges to Musharraf's bid to seek a new five-year presidential term.
Opposition parties had expressed alarm over the news that Musharraf was considering the move because of what Tariq Azim, the minister for state information, called "external and internal threats" and deteriorating security in Pakistan's volatile northwest near the Afghan border.
Azim also said talk from the United States about the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan "has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public." He mentioned Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama by name as an example of someone who made such comments, saying his recent remarks were one reason the government was debating a state of emergency.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Musharraf by phone for more than 15 minutes early Thursday, an official in Washington told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official refused to discuss the content of the conversation.
Under Pakistan's Constitution, the president may declare a state of emergency if it is deemed the country's security is "threatened by war or external aggression, or by internal disturbance beyond" the authority of provincial government's authority to control.
Last week, a bench of the court headed by Chaudhry freed a key political opponent of Musharraf on bail, and on Thursday heard a freedom of movement case lodged by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is seeking to return from exile to stand in parliamentary elections due by early 2008.
In neighboring Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said the extremism plaguing his country is creeping across the border into Pakistan.
Karzai made the comment today at the opening of a meeting in Kabul of more than 600 Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders.
The Afghan president expressed hope the four-day gathering will help address security problems in the border region, where resurgent Taliban militants have stepped up attacks and al-Qaida is feared to have regrouped.
The effectiveness of the meeting is being questioned because of the absence of Musharraf, who pulled out at the last minute and sent his prime minister instead.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press