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Mush bends, polls by Feb 15
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

President Gen Pervez Musharraf today told the National Security Council (NSC) that general elections would be held before February 15 next year.

Musharraf linked the announcement of exact date of the election to the judgement by the Supreme Court on his candidature. He promised to quit as army chief immediately after taking fresh oath of office as President.

The newly constituted Supreme Court is due to take up the petitions challenging the candidature on Monday picking up the thread where an 11-member Bench of the court had left before the emergency. It is expected to be a one-sided affair as most of the lawyers representing the petitioner and rival candidate Wajihuddin, including the lead counsel Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, are in jail. Others have vowed not to appear before judges who have taken oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) and the emergency promulgated by General Musharraf on Saturday.

It was NSC's first meeting since the imposition of emergency. Though Musharraf had justified its formation in 2002 as a bulwark against recurring martial laws, he did not consult it while promulgating the emergency last Saturday that is universally regarded as a martial law in all but name. Top brass of the army besides provincial governors, chief ministers and others attended the NSC meeting.

Four of the 11 judges on the original Bench have taken oath under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) while the rest have declined. The 7-4 division reflects the direction it was moving and that prompted Musharraf to impose emergency and purge the judiciary. One ailing member of the court currently under treatment in Karachi was also sworn on the same day. Five more have since been inducted while at least one more is likely to be named before the resumption of the hearing in order to complete the quorum.

Musharraf is confident of a positive verdict from the newly constituted pliant court that has already virtually endorsed his suspension of the Constitution and imposition of emergency and the PCO.

Earlier on Wednesday, Musharraf told PML MPs he expected the court to give its verdict quickly to enable him announce the election schedule by November 15. For additional support the National Assembly met yesterday evening and passed a resolution endorsing the emergency and the PCO.

Only members of the ruling coalition attended the session which was prorogued after adopting the resolution. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz termed it as resounding democratic support to the emergency from representatives of the people.

Musharraf told the PML MPs that he was under pressure from USA and allies not to impose emergency but he ignored it. "I listen to the telephone calls but do things which are in the larger interests of Pakistan," he was quoted as saying. In their speeches in the assembly, many members cited this defiance as the first ever in country's history that a ruler is behaving independently of US pressure.

President George Bush called him on Wednesday and urged him to hold election on schedule and shed his uniform. But Musharraf feels encouraged by declarations from Bush and other allies that he is an indispensable partner in the war against terror and would not be abandoned.

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