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Pakistan General Mute on Return to Democracy

An artist Friday puts the final touches on a portrait of Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf while a scavenger boy looks on in Lahore, the home town of toppled prime minister Nawaz Sharif. (AFP)
By Kathy Gannon
Associated Press Writer
Friday, October 29, 1999; 7:40 a.m. EDT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Pakistan's ruling army general refused today to give a visiting Commonwealth delegation a time frame for the country's return to democracy and turned down a request by the visitors to see the deposed prime minister.

There was no immediate comment from representatives of the Commonwealth, which groups Britain and its former colonies.

"I can't give any timetable for a certain reason not for any malevolent intention, but the reason was I have set myself certain objectives and I am targeting those objectives," Musharraf told reporters following the meeting.

The army chief has resisted international pressure to spell out a return to civilian government.

He said today that he first wants to revive the ailing economy, clean up the country's corrupt politics and create an atmosphere for democracy to flourish before calling elections.

"I wish there was a computer where I could feed all these objectives and the computer could give me a time frame, but since there is no such computer I cannot give a time frame," he said.

The delegation arrived in Pakistan Thursday to press for a return to democracy and to see Sharif, who has been under military lockup since the Oct. 12 coup ousted his unpopular government. But Musharraf said such a visit was not possible.

Instead, he offered delegation leader Lloyd Axworthy, Canada's foreign minister, a phone call with Sharif. But sources close to the delegation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Axworthy waited an hour for the telephone call and never received it.

Sharif has not been seen since the military coup. He spoke to his family for the first time on Tuesday, when he reportedly told them he was in good health and being well taken care of, according to army Maj. Attiq-ur Rehman, who is guarding his home.

At a meeting with the Commonwealth delegation Thursday, members of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League worried about his safety but stopped short of condemning the army, according to people who attended the meeting but refused to be quoted by name.

Both international and Pakistani human rights groups as well as the Pakistan Muslim League are demanding Sharif be allowed to see a lawyer, family and colleagues.

In Pakistan, where the army has ruled for 25 of the nation's 52-year history, few are anxious for quick elections. Frustrated by the endemic corruption of Pakistani politics, most seem ready to put elections aside at least for a while.

Civilian members of the new military regime have told Commonwealth delegation members that their setup is not martial law because civil rights, press freedoms and the judiciary remain intact.

The Commonwealth has suspended Pakistan from participation on its advisory councils. It wants an immediate return to democracy but its rules allow up to two years for the army administration to achieve that goal. The rules also allow the Commonwealth to give technical assistance to the military regime toward that end.

The final decision on whether to expel Pakistan from the Commonwealth rests with the heads of states who will meet Nov. 12-15 in Durban, South Africa. The delegation, which is winding up its two-day trip to Pakistan, will offer a recommendation.

© 1999 The Associated Press

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