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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 16:25 GMT
West faces new Pakistan dilemma
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Pakistani policeman with helmet and weapon (4 November 2007)
The emergency decree has put security forces on the streets
The declaration of emergency rule in Pakistan by President Pervez Musharraf is an embarrassment for the US and British governments, which had been urging him not to take this step.

Both have condemned it. The question now is whether they will have to live with it.

(Update Monday: Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has announced that elections scheduled by January will go ahead.

The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters in London that he would welcome the holding of elections, one of the demands made on Pakistan by the United States, Britain and others.

However, Mr Miliband stressed three other demands - for President Musharraf to stand down as army chief, for political prisoners to be released and for media freedom to return.

International pressure on Pakistan will remain strong therefore.)

Earlier, statements from both the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr Miliband fell short of saying they would cut off contacts with President Musharraf.

Instead, they urged him to return to the path which he has so decisively left.

Nevertheless, in the meantime the US and British governments will have to continue to rely on General Musharraf as an ally
Condoleezza Rice said: "It is in the best interests of Pakistan and the Pakistani people for there to be a prompt return to the constitutional course, for there to be an affirmation that elections will be held for a new parliament."

Mr Miliband had a similar line: "It is vital that the government acts in accordance with the constitution, and abides by the commitment to hold free and fair elections on schedule which President Musharraf reiterated to the prime minister when they spoke on 1 November."

Mr Miliband added his own policy initiative, which is that British citizens and residents with Pakistani connections should use those contacts to bring added pressure, a kind of direct diplomacy.

Ms Rice said that the issue of aid to Pakistan would be reviewed. However, much of this aid is linked to counter-terrorism and she said she doubted if President Bush would want to "set aside" these.

The pressure for a return to full constitutional rule will be maintained.

The strongest statement in fact came from the White House. There a spokesman highlighted a key immediate demand on General Musharraf - to give up his post of head of the army.

"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," said the statement.

Musharraf as an ally

Nevertheless, in the meantime the US and British governments will have to continue to rely on General Musharraf as an ally in both the war against the Taleban in neighbouring Afghanistan and in the war against al-Qaeda, whose influence is strong in border regions of Pakistan.

Pakistani soldiers (file pic)
Pakistan's army has come under pressure in tribal regions
Indeed, one of the worrying factors for Western governments in the present crisis is the suspected weakness of some elements of the normally disciplined Pakistani army. Recently, 300 soldiers surrendered in South Waziristan.

While condemning the general for his declaration of emergency, Washington and London perhaps hope that a by-product might be a stiffening of military resolve in the struggles that interest them most.

The United States cannot really afford to alienate the Pakistani military.

The Pentagon press secretary said the emergency had had no immediate impact on US military co-operation.

Overall, however, this move by the general is a disappointment, to say the least, for the "forward strategy of freedom" proclaimed by President Bush in November 2003 as he championed the spread of democracy throughout the greater Middle East "and elsewhere", as he put it.

The strategy for Pakistan was for a gradual return to democratic rule, which would show that this was the answer to fundamentalism.

Ms Bhutto says she thinks that emergency rule could delay elections by "at least one to two years".

"I very strongly feel that Pakistan's very future as a moderate state is at stake," she said.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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