By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has called for political reconciliation and dialogue within the country.
Gen Musharraf is running out of options
The remarks came overnight after a Supreme Court ruling on Thursday allowed the return of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Gen Musharraf deposed Mr Sharif in a coup in October 1999 and forced him and his family into exile in 2000.
The ruling strengthens political opposition to the president with general elections due by late 2007.
"Political reconciliation and national consensus is the need of the hour," President Pervez Musharraf said.
He was speaking on national television in the late-night show "From the Presidency", in which the general discusses issues with a selected audience.
The programme is seen as an attempt to muster public support for the general's flagging regime.
The debate on Thursday revolved around the challenges Pakistan faces as the general election approaches.
Gen Musharraf's comments came just hours after the Supreme Court, headed by a judge the president tried to remove, ruled that Mr Sharif and his family could return to Pakistan.
The attempt to sack Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was aimed at taming a judiciary seen as increasingly independent.
It backfired as Mr Chaudhry fought the charges in court and won.
Lawyers and opposition political parties across the country rallied in his support, posing the most serious threat to President Musharraf's authority since he seized power.
Months of protests have seriously weakened President Musharraf and led to speculation that emergency rule might be imposed.
If that were to happen, it would severely limit the power of the courts.
Meanwhile, the judiciary continues to pursue cases in which the government is accused of over-reaching its authority.
Observers say the one that most frightened the government was that regarding Mr Sharif's return.
In his talk-show appearance, President Musharraf reiterated the government standpoint.
MUSHARRAF UNDER PRESSURE
9 March: Musharraf suspends chief justice for "abuse of power". Lawyers protest
April: Protests grow, amid clashes with police
12 May: 34 people die as rival political groups clash in Karachi
11 July: 102 people die when army storms radical Red Mosque in Islamabad
July-Aug: Sharp rise in suicide attacks by pro-Taleban militants
20 July: Supreme Court reinstates chief justice
9 Aug: Musharraf rejects emergency rule
23 Aug: Supreme Court says exiled ex-PM Nawaz Sharif can return
"He [Mr Sharif] was a convict and was awarded life imprisonment."
"On his own he requested and approached me and it was arranged that he leaves the country for 10 years."
But the Supreme Court disagreed and backed Mr Sharif, the president's bitterest rival.
The court was also quite unforgiving towards what it saw as disparaging comments about its judgement.
It found Sher Afghan Niazi, federal minister for parliamentary affairs, in contempt of court for accusing judges of playing politics and gave him two weeks to explain his remarks.
But President Musharraf was more circumspect about the court win for his bitterest rival.
"There is a need to forgive and forget the past and to move ahead," he said - a far cry from his vow a few weeks ago to block the return of any exiled politicians.
With an independent judiciary acting as a watchdog, the days of absolute executive power seem to be over.
President Musharraf seems to have judged which way the wind is blowing.
"I hope all political parties will keep Pakistan's national interest supreme," he said.
"Let there be free and transparent elections, so that we can move towards national and political reconciliation."