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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf showed signs that he may yield to the international criticism that's been building for nearly a week. Musharraf suspended the country's constitution last Saturday, a move that disgraced him in the eyes of much of the international community, and now he says Pakistan will hold elections by mid-February.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES: Last week, it was all very straightforward. Elections for Pakistan's national and provincial parliaments would be held my mid-January. That was before this happened.

President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan.

REEVES: Musharraf's declaration that he was imposing emergency rule and suspending the constitution. The general and his security services ruthlessly stifled opposition, detaining thousands, censoring the media, and using brutal force against demonstrations.

Yesterday, President Bush, who sees Musharraf as a close ally, telephoned to complain. Today, Musharraf responded by announcing elections will be held before the 15th of February. The U.S. welcomed this. It wants him to get on with the transition from military to civilian rule and with reviving negotiations with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto was less enthusiastic.

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan): It's a little late to say it will be held by February. That's not an election schedule. That's not an election date. We want an election date. We want a date for retirement.

REEVES: She means Musharraf's retirement as army chief of staff. Today, Musharraf again said he would give up the uniform, but only after Pakistan's new Supreme Court validates his recent election as president for another term.

Again, Bhutto is not happy.

Ms. BHUTTO: We want the uniform off by November 15th or before.

REEVES: The new Supreme Court is sure to confirm Musharraf's reelection. Since imposing emergency rule, he's purged the judges who challenged his government, including the Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudry. Most of the court refused to take a required new oath and are now being replaced.

This raises an issue that's shaping to be Pakistan's next big political battle. One of the main reasons Musharraf imposed the emergency was because he felt the judiciary was interfering with government. It's highly unlikely Musharraf will restore the previous Supreme Court or the sacked chief justice when he lifts emergency rule.

Political analyst Nasim Zera says not doing so would be disastrous.

Ms. NASIM ZERA (Political Analyst): You can't have a genuine democracy with a dismantled, defunct judiciary, and with a destroyed judiciary.

REEVES: The U.S. wants Musharraf to stay in power. It sees him as a key player in fighting growing Islamist militancy. Zera says the U.S. doesn't seem to be pressing Musharraf to restore the judiciary.

Ms. ZERA: As of now, all the statements that I have seen coming out of Washington, I don't think that any one of them refers to the judiciary at all.

Ms. BHUTTO: Number one, revival of constitution.

REEVES: One person who could pressure Musharraf on this is Benazir Bhutto. She's been pushing hard for an end to emergency rule and for elections, a point she intends to press home tomorrow. She's called a protest rally in the city of Rawalpindi. Bhutto has stated the Supreme Court judges will be restored when the constitution is revived.

But Zafarullah Khan, a lawyer and specialist in international relations, says she's playing the subject down.

Mr. ZAFARULLAH KHAN (Lawyer; International Relations Specialist): To the best of legal community's understanding, she is not very serious at this moment for the full restoration of the judiciary.

REEVES: Khan believes this is because Bhutto, who's angling to become prime minister again, needs Musharraf to remain as civilian president. The previous, now dismantled, Supreme Court might not allow this. Khan also suspects Bhutto is worried that court would overturn a recent amnesty law which allowed corruption charges against her to be dropped.

Yet if the judiciary is not restored, Pakistan's legal community will continue to protest and, says Nasim Zera, many other Pakistanis will be outraged.

Ms. ZERA: It will mean that you will have increasingly a police state. It will mean that people who already feel that they are being victimized, they will have no stake in the system, and that's a recipe for political disaster.

REEVES: In other words, the loss of Pakistan's independent judiciary would be too big a sacrifice just to keep General Musharraf in power.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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