Pakistani national elections will take place before February 15, President Pervez Musharraf said yesterday, after Western allies and opponents had demanded polls be held on time and emergency rule scrapped.
"There is no doubt in my mind that elections should be held on time, as soon as possible," Musharraf told official media after chairing a meeting of the National Security Council.
"It was my commitment and I am fulfilling it."
General Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, added he would quit the military and be sworn in as a civilian president once the Supreme Court rules whether he was eligible to stand for re-election last month while still army chief.
Musharraf's announcement came just hours after US President George W. Bush called him for the first time since Saturday's announcement, urging him to hold elections and quit as army chief.
"My message was ... You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time," Bush told a news conference.
Washington had been quietly encouraging Bhutto and Musharraf to share power after the polls, wanting to see another progressive-minded politician alongside him to carry the fight against Al-Qaida and the Taliban.
"We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.
It remains to be seen whether Musharraf can control events set in train by his shock decision last Saturday to declare emergency rule, suspend the constitution, sack most of the country's judges and round up the majority of the opposition leadership, and anyone else deemed troublesome.
Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who has thrown down the gauntlet by threatening to lead mass protests, said Musharraf needed to do more. She said Musharraf should release detained judges and let "the real Supreme Court" decide on challenges to his re-election.
Lawyers have led protests and are boycotting the courts. But so far the political opposition has not shown its street power.
Source: China Daily/Agencies