U.S. Warns Musharraf Not to Use Martial Law

By Griff Witte and Imtiaz Ali
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 3, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 2 -- The United States pressured Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Friday to avoid declaring martial law or emergency rule, as violence continued in the country's troubled northwest with an explosion at a suspected insurgent hideout that killed 10 people.

With his political future hanging on an upcoming Supreme Court decision, Musharraf is said by officials here to be weighing the possibility of imposing a state of emergency if the decision does not go his way. If he does, Musharraf would probably cite a wave of extremist attacks that have roiled the country in recent months, with increasingly large swaths of territory falling under the sway of insurgents.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday sent a warning to Musharraf not to take authoritarian measures to hold on to power. "I think it would be quite obvious that the United States would not be supportive of extra-constitutional means," Rice said. "Pakistan needs to prepare for and hold free and fair elections."

That message was followed by a previously scheduled meeting between Musharraf and Adm. William J. Fallon, chief of the U.S. Central Command.

Musharraf won election last month to a second five-year term as Pakistan's president. But the Supreme Court is still reviewing whether he was eligible to run in the first place.

Most analysts predict that the court will rule in Musharraf's favor and allow him to begin his new term. But the case has been dragging on for weeks, and Musharraf's current term expires Nov. 15.

After saying on Thursday that they would take next week off from the case, the judges said Friday that they would meet for at least two days next week in an attempt to reach a decision before the end of Musharraf's term.

In the meantime, government officials have pointedly refused to rule out the possibility of an emergency declaration that would blunt the power of the courts and allow Musharraf to push back parliamentary elections slated for early 2008. Opposition politicians accuse the government of using the threat of martial law or emergency rule to pressure the Supreme Court to side with the president.

The explosion that killed 10 Friday in the restive border region of North Waziristan seemed likely to exacerbate an already turbulent situation in Pakistan. According to witness reports, the explosion was caused by a missile attack that obliterated a house near a madrassa, or religious school, that has been associated with Taliban commanders.

The Pakistani military, which has been fighting a losing battle in the tribal region, denied that it was involved in the attack. Many Pakistanis quickly blamed Washington, saying the attack bore the hallmarks of previous strikes by U.S. drones.

U.S. and NATO military officials in Afghanistan also denied that their forces had been responsible for the attack. A senior Bush administration official familiar with intelligence activities said the CIA was not involved.

The missile landed in the village of Dandi Darpakheil, 10 miles into Pakistani territory. Some residents reported seeing a drone circling overhead before the explosion, while others said that the strike seemed to have originated to the west, in Afghanistan.

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