ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said it would hold a national election by mid-January and President Pervez Musharraf pledged to quit the military after criticism from the United States for imposing emergency rule.
Musharraf has detained hundreds of lawyers and opposition politicians since taking emergency powers on Saturday, a move seen as designed to pre-empt a Supreme Court ruling on his re-election as president last month.
U.S. President George W. Bush, who values Musharraf as an ally in his battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, urged Pakistan’s president to lift the state of emergency, hold elections and quit his military post.
Police used teargas against stone-throwing lawyers in the eastern city of Lahore, and wielded batons to break up another protest by dozens outside the High Court in Karachi.
It had been unclear whether parliamentary elections would go ahead in January as scheduled.
But Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum told Reuters there would be no delay and national and provincial assemblies would be dissolved by November 15 ahead of the vote that is supposed to transform Pakistan into a civilian-led democracy.
There was no indication of when Musharraf would lift emergency rule, which he justified by citing a hostile judiciary and rising militancy. However he said on Monday he planned to give up his military role in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
“I am determined to execute this third stage of transition fully and I’m determined to remove my uniform once we correct these pillars in judiciary and the executive and the parliament,” he said on state-run Pakistan Television.
Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 and had been waiting for the Supreme Court to decide if his re-election as president while still army chief was valid, had to dismiss rumors sweeping the country that he had been put under house arrest.
Since Pakistan was formed in 1947 by the partition of India after British colonial rule, it has reeled from one crisis to another and spent half its 60 years ruled by generals.
Security has deteriorated since July, when commandos stormed Islamabad’s Red Mosque to crush an armed Islamist movement. Since then nearly 800 people have been killed in militant-linked violence, half of them by suicide attacks.
The United States has put future aid to Pakistan under review, having provided $10 billion in the past five years, and postponed defense talks with Pakistan due this week.
“We expect there to be elections as soon as possible and that the president should remove his military uniform,” Bush said in Washington.
But softening his remarks, Bush said Musharraf “has been a strong fighter against extremists and radicals ... After all they tried to kill him three or four times.”
In Islamabad, several hundred lawyers, chanting “Go Musharraf Go!” and “The dictator is unacceptable!”, protested outside courts until police broke them up by force.
Several judges were held incommunicado at their homes after refusing to back emergency rule. Among them was dismissed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who became a symbol of resistance to Musharraf’s rule after defying pressure to quit in March.
“It is the duty of all citizens of the country and lawyers in particular to continue their struggle for the supremacy of the constitution, rule of law, independence of judiciary and real democracy,” Chaudhry said in a statement.
There have also been mass detentions of political activists.
Additional reporting by Sahar Ahmed, Ovais Subhani in Karachi, Zeeshan Haider, Kamran Haider and Sheree Sardar in Islamabad