Embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf yesterday decided against imposing a state of emergency in Pakistan to cope with growing security and stability concerns, a senior government official said.
The military ruler, facing the greatest challenge to his leadership since he seized power in a 1999 coup, decided against the move -- which would have postponed next year's elections -- after conferring with aides, he said.
"The president has rejected the suggestions to declare a state of emergency as proposed by his political allies," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Musharraf has been facing a raft of problems including widespread anger over his attempt, since overturned by the courts, to suspend the country's chief justice -- a move critics saw as an attempt to consolidate his grip on power.
Mass protests over the attempted suspension, mounting criticism over his government's handling of militants along the Afghan border and efforts by rivals to come back from exile to contest the election have put him under fire.
Government sources had said the president was reluctant to impose an emergency but had been under pressure from key aides to do so.
Other sources close to the president said Musharraf's decision to reject the advice of political allies was based on his commitment to elections that are slated for early next year.
"The president believes in holding free and fair elections in the country on schedule and he is not in favor of taking any measures that would be a hurdle in this objective," a close political ally of Musharraf said.
"He feels that there is no requirement of imposing a state of emergency," he said.
The imposition of emergency measures would have derailed that commitment as it would automatically have extended the tenure of the current parliament for another 12 months, as well as curtailing judicial and civil freedoms.
Musharraf's aides had argued that Pakistan could not afford further instability, especially with the capital's security already breached since security forces raided a mosque last month that had been taken over by Islamic radicals.
By rejecting the advice of his aides, Musharraf had denied ammunition to his political rivals, among them exiled former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto who have signalled their intention to return home to contest the elections.
Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday began deliberating Sharif's application to have his exile overturned and be permitted to return to the country.
Sharif lodged his appeal earlier this month to end seven years of exile which began when he was overthrown in a coup by military ruler President Pervez Musharraf in October 1999.
Sharif still officially heads his faction of the conservative Pakistan Muslim League party from exile, while Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile, is the leader of the centrist Pakistan People's Party.
The application was heard by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was suspended by Musharraf on allegations of corruption and conflict of interest before being reinstated by the Supreme Court last month.