LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped persuade Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to hold off declaring a state of emergency, high level Pakistani government sources said Thursday.
Musharraf was said to be considering the move, which would bolster military rule and suspend democratic freedoms, amid security concerns that pose the biggest threat to army chief's rule since he seized power in a coup in 1999.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that Rice called Musharraf early Thursday, characterizing it as a "good discussion," without providing details.
The government sources said Rice called Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally in its so-called war on terror -- after media reports that he was considering imposing a state of emergency.
A recent report from the International Crisis Group said Musharraf was considering the move to retain his grip on power amid a growing opposition movement.
Islamabad said the measure was being considered amid the growing security threat in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.
Despite Musharraf's apparent climbdown, senior U.S. military officials remain deeply concerned that the state of emergency remained a viable option for Pakistan's leader, according to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
She said senior U.S. military officials characterized the situation in Pakistan as "topic number one," amid concerns that Washington does not have a full grasp of what is happening within the Islamabad government or the country's military at the moment.
"The key question for the U.S.: Is Musharraf doing this because of the internal threat or strictly as a political ploy to put himself in the best position for elections?" Starr said.
"It's the obvious question of course ... the U.S. feels it doesn't have good answers to that. All of this has the Bush administration and military very concerned about command and control of nuclear weapons in any Pakistanis succession..
Pakistan information minister Tariq Azim said the state of emergency could still be an option, particularly if the situation deteriorated in the country's North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan.
"As you know there have been problems in the North-West Frontier of Pakistan, there have been suicide bombings, three Chinese have been killed there and further we have got a situation on our borders with Afghanistan where the 'war on terror' is going on," Azim said.
Pakistan's Supreme Court, led by its recently reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, is set to rule on whether to lift the exile imposed on Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after he was ousted by Musharraf's 1999 military coup.
The top court recently freed the acting president of Sharif's opposition party from prison.
Musharraf suspended Chaudhry in March, triggering massive country-wide protests and accusations that the Pakistani leader was trying to influence the Supreme Court's ruling on whether he can run for another five-year term under Pakistan's constitution.
Musharraf was elected to president in a 2002 vote that was widely viewed as rigged. His five-year presidential term expires in November and he is seeking to retain his position as president and army chief.
Amid the growing threat to his rule, Musharraf has reached out to opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in an attempt to consolidate his power.
The two met in Abu Dhabi in late July, according to senior officials on each side of the talks.
Despite her opposition to Musharraf, she told CNN this week that she would be open to serving as prime minister under his government if he resigns his post as chief of the country's powerful military.
That would significantly weaken Musharraf's grip on power in Pakistan.
The July 31 report from the International Crisis Group warned against imposing a state of emergency, saying it would be a move by Musharraf to retain the current "lame-duck parliament" so he can secure re-election "before the people can express their will by voting for the new parliament."
Elections are scheduled sometime around the turn of the year after Musharraf's term as president expires, as well as his army chief position. The National Assembly's term also expires at the end of the year.
"This extreme step would only postpone the inevitable, while costing the government all claims to public support and its remaining vestiges of legitimacy," the report stated.
The Pakistani leader announced Wednesday he would skip a highly anticipated meeting on Thursday with his Afghan counterpart and tribal leaders, citing "engagements in the capital."
Relations between Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have been chilly for some time, as Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of allowing Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to regroup and carve out a new safe haven along Pakistan's largely lawless northwestern frontier. E-mail to a friend
-- CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi, Nic Robertson, Barbara Starr and Zain Verjee contributed to this report.
|Most Viewed||Most Emailed||Top Searches|