The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pushed, Pak says polls are on track
It is a joke of the highest order Musharraf
on rumours of his house

Islamabad, Nov. 5: Pakistan today said the general election would be held on schedule by mid-January, apparently bowing to pressure after the US asked President Pervez Musharraf to “take off his uniform” and hold polls under the Constitution.

Musharraf later said he would quit as army chief and become a civilian President but gave no deadline.

“I am determined to remove my uniform once we correct these pillars in judiciary and the executive and the parliament,” he told foreign diplomats in comments broadcast on the state-run PTV.

Earlier, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had told reporters: “I want to be very clear. We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections. President Musharraf has said that he will take off his uniform. That would be an important step.”

The White House added its voice, spokesperson Dana Perino saying: “The President (George Bush) and his advisers... right now are urging him (Musharraf) to quickly return to civilian rule, to get back on the path of democracy, to restore the freedoms of the press as well as release detainees.”

Within hours, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the polls would be “held according to schedule”, a day after warning they could be put off by up to a year.

Attorney-general Malik Abdul Qayyum then set the timetable: “By November 15… the Assemblies will be dissolved and the election will be held within the next 60 days.”

The climbdown capped a nervous day for Musharraf, moved enough by swirling rumours to personally deny that his army vice-chief had staged a coup and placed him under house arrest. “It is a joke of the highest order,” the general said, adding he was headed for a game of tennis.

It wasn’t clear if Rice meant Musharraf should give up his uniform immediately. “The more quickly and the more urgently that the Pakistani leadership and President Musharraf act on their stated desire to get back to a constitutional path, it will be for the better of everyone,” she said.

There are severe limits, however, to how far Washington would be ready to push Musharraf, a key terror-war ally.

Europe piled more pressure, with the Dutch government becoming the first to freeze development aid.

Even the Pentagon put off a two-day defence cooperation meeting that was to start in Islamabad tomorrow, but added the talks would be rescheduled “soon”.


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