Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf is set to quit as army chief and become a civilian president at the weekend, a top government official said yesterday, as the military ruler won fresh US backing.
Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum said that if the Supreme Court throws out a final challenge today to Musharraf's re-election as expected, he would hang up his uniform within days.
"If the Supreme Court lifts the stay order against his re-election, then President Musharraf is likely to take the oath as a civilian president by Saturday or Sunday," Qayyum said.
"Once the court decides, the notification [of his victory] can be issued in a day or two and then he should take the oath this weekend."
The Pakistani leader has been under intense international pressure led by the US to end the state of emergency he imposed on Nov. 3, quit as chief of army staff, hold fair elections and free political prisoners.
Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has promised to quit his army post as soon as the court dismisses all the challenges so his victory can be officially validated.
Qayyum earlier said that lifting emergency rule was linked to security concerns, especially in the northwest where pro-Taliban militants are fighting government forces, and not to when Musharraf would take the oath.
The top court on Monday dismissed five of six challenges against Musharraf's Oct. 6 victory, leaving just one -- regarded as minor -- to be heard today.
On Tuesday, authorities set general elections for Jan. 8 and announced the release of more than 3,400 prisoners detained under emergency rule, with another 2,000 to be released "soon."
Meanwhile, Commonwealth foreign ministers gathered yesterday in Kampala for a two-day meeting expected to decide whether or not Pakistan should be excluded from the organization of former British colonies.
A decision is expected late today, before the biennial summit is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth the next day.
On Tuesday, the 53-state organization's rights body urged the foreign ministers to suspend the Asian country's membership, arguing that "Pakistan under Musharraf's emergency rule has no place in the Commonwealth."
Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth for five years following Musharraf's 1999 coup but welcomed back into the fold on the condition that he take off his uniform.
At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in 2005, Musharraf was urged to step down as head of the armed forces by the end of his presidential term this year.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said in an interview in London earlier this month that there had been some progress in Pakistan since Musharraf took over in a coup in 1999, but that the president should keep his promises.