US warns Pakistan on emergency rule


US envoy John Negroponte said on Sunday he had urged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule, warning it was "not compatible" with free and fair elections due by early January and would undermine them.

The US deputy secretary of state, who met General Musharraf yesterday, praised his role in the fight

US envoy John Negroponte speaks during a news conference in Islamabad today.
US envoy John Negroponte speaks during a news conference in Islamabad today.

against al Qaeda and Taliban militants, saying Washington valued its partnership with its ally. But he bluntly called on him to lift emergency rule.

"Emergency rule is not compatible with free, fair and credible elections," Mr Negroponte, the United States' No.2 diplomat, told a news conference at the US embassy.

Mr Negroponte said he had also called on Gen Musharraf to release thousands of opposition figures who have been rounded up and imprisoned, and to stick to his word to quit as army chief.

"If those steps aren't taken, it will certainly undermine the government's ability to conduct satisfactory elections," he said.

Gen Musharraf has promised elections will be held by January 9th, and has said he is determined to remove his army uniform and be sworn in as a civilian president once a pending Supreme Court ruling on his October re-election is out.

But he has not yet said when he will end emergency rule and reinstate the suspended constitution, or free hundreds of detained lawyers including the former chief justice - moves analysts said were aimed at holding onto power.

Gen Musharraf has also slapped curbs on the media, punishable by up to three years in jail, and two leading private news stations say they have been forced to close down altogether.

"It is high time he ended this draconian reign of terror against his own people, the media and its institutions and stepped aside," the paper wrote in a scathing editorial.

Gen Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, has defended his decision to declare emergency rule, saying Pakistan's nuclear weapons will not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands while the military is in control of them.

Gen Musharraf said in a BBC interview broadcast yesterday that if elections were held in a "disturbed environment", it could bring in dangerous elements who might endanger Pakistan's "strategic assets".

"They cannot fall into the wrong hands, if we manage ourselves politically. The military is there -- as long as the military is there, nothing happens to the strategic assets, we are in charge and nobody does anything with them," he said.