Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 01:55 GMT 02:55 UK
World: South Asia
Cautious US welcome to Pakistan pledge
General Musharraf said Pakistan had hit rock bottom
The United States has given a cautious welcome to the pledge by Pakistan's new military ruler, General Musharraf, of an eventual return to democracy.
In a TV address to the nation on Sunday - his first major policy statement - General Musharraf said the armed forces would stay in power no longer than necessary - but gave no specific date for future elections.
US State Department spokesman James Rubin expressed disappointment that no clear timetable had been set, and called for one immediately.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said before the address that Commonwealth foreign ministers would "almost certainly" recommend suspension at their meeting in London.
He said: "As the secretary-general of the Commonwealth said, a country that has a military coup suspends itself from membership."
In his 15-minute address, the general said he had no intention of remaining in power for longer than it took to lead the country towards what he called "true democracy".
He said that Pakistan would exercise nuclear restraint and went on to announce a unilateral military de-escalation in the border dispute with India over Kashmir.
He pledged "to withdraw all troops sent to the area in the recent past".
"India must end its repression of the Kashmiri people and respect their fundamental human rights," he said.
He congratulated Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on his election victory and welcomed his offer of friendly relations.
On foreign policy, Gen Musharraf said there would be no change.
He said it was important for Pakistan to maintain friendly relations with all major powers, especially the United States.
Explaining his reasons for taking power, Gen Musharraf painted a gloomy picture of today's Pakistan.
He said the economy was crumbling, the country had lost its credibility, state institutions had been demolished, cracks were appearing in the federation and people who were once brothers were now at each other's throats.
He said he had sacrificed one of Pakistan's limbs - the constitution - in order to save its body - the nation. But the constitution had only been temporarily suspended.
"This is not martial law," he said, but rather "another path toward democracy."
But contrary to the broad international condemnation of the military's take-over, Saudi Arabia has voiced its support for the coup.
The Saudi Defence Minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, said his government had great confidence in the Pakistani armed forces, and in their capacity to protect all Pakistanis.
He said Saudi Arabia - which provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan - hoped for calm and stability there.
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