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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan in political vacuum

Opposition supporters have been celebrating the removal of the prime minister

A political vacuum has developed in Pakistan two days after the military dismissed the country's civilian government in a lightning coup.

Pakistan in crisis
The man who led the takeover, General Pervez Musharraf, and his army commanders are still trying to choose between imposing martial law or setting up some form of caretaker civilian government.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones: "What is going to replace it remains a mystery"
As the world awaits the military's next move, international condemnation of the coup has been growing. US President Bill Clinton has joined world leaders in calling for a swift return to civilian rule.

General Musharraf, the army chief-of-staff, on Wednesday sought the support of President Rafiq Tarar for the establishment of a caretaker administration. But without an official statement, it is being presumed in Islamabad that there was no real breakthough.

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas: "General Musharraf says he does not want to impose martial law"
And with the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, due to meet on Friday, General Musharraf will have to make a final decision before then on whether to declare martial law in the country.

Without declaring martial law, he cannot dissolve the National Assembly.

[ image:  ]
The Pakistan Muslim League, the political party of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has a big majority in the lower house, and if it is allowed to meet there is is a strong possibility that it may re-elect Mr Sharif and declare the military rule unconstitional, according to BBC correspondents in Islamabad.

Although there was still no sign of the army's promised policy statement on Thursday morning, the military stepped up its attack on Mr Sharif and accused him of hatching a conspiracy against it before he was ousted.

The NNI news agency quoted an army spokesman as saying: "We have got certain evidences which prove that Nawaz Sharif was busy in conspiracies against the army."

[ image: Nawaz Sharif: Whereabouts uncertain]
Nawaz Sharif: Whereabouts uncertain
NNI said Mr Sharif had been "shifted to an unknown destination" after he was placed in what was described as protective custody on Tuesday.

The streets of Pakistan remained peaceful on Thursday, and many people have expressed relief at the removal of what correspondents have described as an increasingly unpopular government.

Airports that were closed on Tuesday have also been reopened.

Foreign concern

However the international community is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to restore democracy as soon as possible.

The BBC's Mark Devenport: "Diplomats at Pakistan's UN mission say they assume takeover will be regarded as an internal matter"
President Clinton said: "Pakistan's interests would be served by a prompt return to civilian rule and restoration of the democratic process. I am sending my ambassador back to Islamabad to underscore my view directly to the military authorities and to hear their intentions."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a similar call on Pakistan, saying a military takeover was not the way to solve problems. He said he hoped "the current crisis will not exacerbate the already tense situation in the region".

The BBC's Mark Urban looks at what may happen next
Pakistan and its neighbour India have been involved in a tense stand-off over the future of the disputed territories of Kashmir, and in 1998 engaged in a tit-for-tat series of tests of their nuclear capabilities.

The Commonwealth warned that it may suspend Pakistan if it does not restore democracy very speedily.

Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku said what had happened "flies in the face" of democracy and "isolates the Pakistani regime".

The European Union has decided to delay indefinitely the signing of a partnership agreement with Pakistan, and the International Monetary Fund said aid might be suspended if democracy were not restored.

Other related stories:

  • Analysis: Military friction provided the spark
  • Clinton urges return to civilian rule
  • Opposition happy at Sharif dismissal
  • Pakistan press cautious over coup
  • Coup worries for Vajpayee government
  • In pictures: Military takes over in Pakistan

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