WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Pakistan's military ruler on Sunday to lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, expressing concern that Gen. Pervez Musharraf has not set a time limit for restoring citizens' rights.
At the same time, Rice said it was a positive sign that Musharraf now has pledged to hold parliamentary elections by mid-January. There had been concerns voting could be delayed by as much as a year in the wake of his declaration last weekend that he was suspending the constitution.
"It's not a perfect situation," Rice said.
She said the role of the United States should be to persuade Pakistan that "it has to get back on the democratic road." Asked about what it was time for Musharraf to step down, Rice said the focus should be on holding free and fair elections.
The army chief imposed the state of emergency on Nov. 3, citing the growing threat posed by Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants. Critics say the move was aimed at extending his grip on power, noting that the main targets of his crackdown so far have been human rights workers, political activists and lawyers.
At a news conference Sunday in Islamabad, Musharraf defended the emergency measures and said it was "the most difficult decision I have ever taken in my life."
Musharraf has said he would give up his army post, as the U.S. has urged, but only once his Oct. 6 presidential election victory had been endorsed. That is regarded by many observers as a formality now that he has remade the Supreme Court and ousted popular judges.