U.S. disappointed as Musharraf sets emergency rule

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States voiced disappointment at Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule on Saturday and urged him to stick to his pledge to hold free elections early next year.

“This action is very disappointing,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

“President Musharraf needs to stand by his pledges to have free and fair elections in January and step down as chief of army staff before retaking the presidential oath of office,” Johndroe added.

Musharraf imposed emergency rule in a bid to reassert his flagging authority against challenges from Islamist militants, a hostile judiciary and political rivals.

“All parties involved should move along the democratic path peacefully and quickly,” Johndroe said.

Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while on a visit to Turkey, said she was “deeply disturbed” by Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule, calling it a step backward for democracy.

“The U.S. has made very clear that it does not support extra-constitutional measures as they would take Pakistan away from the path of democracy and civilian rule,” Rice told reporters as she was taking off from Turkey.

“We will be urging the commitment to hold free and fair elections be kept and we will be urging calm on all parties,” she said en route to Jerusalem.

Rice said she had not spoken to Musharraf since he made the announcement on Saturday.

When speculation was rife in August that Musharraf was set to declare a state of emergency, Rice called him twice to make clear that was a move Washington strongly opposed and there must be greater efforts toward civilian rule via democratic elections.


Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the declaration had no immediate impact on U.S. military cooperation with Pakistan. “At this point the declaration does not impact our military support of Pakistan’s efforts in the war on terror.”

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was closely monitoring the situation, he said. “Obviously the stakes are high there. Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror,” he told reporters on Gates’ aircraft en route from Washington to Beijing.

“This move will be seen in Pakistan as a desperate attempt by Musharraf to cling to power and will lead to a serious deterioration in civil-military ties,” Heritage Foundation analyst Lisa Curtis said in an e-mail to Reuters.

“Imposition of emergency (rule) does not help the military fight its battle against terrorism and extremism in the country. ... In fact, imposition of emergency will heighten public anger against Musharraf and decrease overall support for the military,” Curtis wrote.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan’s internal security has deteriorated sharply in the past few months with a wave of suicide attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants, including one last month that killed 139 people.

While impatient with Musharraf over human rights and other issues, the United States has sought to remain on close terms with him as it needs Pakistan’s close cooperation on fighting terrorism.

The Bush administration has also been pushing moderates including opposition politician Benazir Bhutto to form a partnership with Musharraf.

“Americans should value President Musharraf’s friendship and Pakistan’s help in the war on terror, but this cannot sway us from our concern for Pakistani democracy,” said Republican Sen. John McCain, who is running for nomination for the U.S. presidency.

“Today’s action takes a disappointing step in the wrong direction,” he added.

Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Jerusalem, Caren Bohan in Washington and Andrew Gray en route to Beijing