The State Department is tacitly supporting the right for opposition parties in Pakistan to assemble in public and express their views — something which has been banned in Sindh province and Punjab by the government in recent days in order to prevent a protest march heading for Islamabad.

The multi-party marchers, led by opposition leaders like the PML- N's (Pakistan Muslim League) Nawaz Sharif and the Movement for Justice's Imran Khan, are calling for leading judicial figures like former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry to be reinstated.

Hundreds of opposition activists and lawyers have been arrested in the crackdown. Several opposition leaders and lawyers have gone into hiding to avoid arrest as police have conducted raids on their homes and offices.

Acting State Department Spokesman Robert Wood described the situation on the ground as "difficult" and called for political reconciliation.

"Our position remains basically that we support freedom of speech, of expression, of assembly in Pakistan," Wood said. "What we think is important is that the various parties try to resolve their differences within the political system of Pakistan in accordance with its constitution; respect for the rule of law."

He would not confirm whether this message had been directly conveyed to the Pakistani leadership however, saying "the government took a decision on its own."

Pakistani embassy spokesman Nadeem Kiani defended the decision to ban the march.

"It's the responsibility of the government to protect life and property of the citizens," he said. "The government would not allow a situation which could result in the bloodshed of its own people on the roads. Hence, necessary measures are being taken to maintain peace and security in the country."

Robert Wood could not confirm the current U.S. position on the reinstatement of key judicial figures in Pakistan, something the U.S. pressured President Musharraf for during similar protests in 2007.

Kiani maintained that most judges had been reinstated as Zardari promised during his election campaign, and that any remaining reappointments could be settled through negotiations.

Movement for Justice Spokesman Ali Zaidi disagreed.

"We have already tried negotiations and every promise has been broken," he said. "This is November 2007 all over again. We want the full resoration of the judiciary to its pre-November 2007 status."

Local media report President Zardari is back in the country after attending an economic conference in Tehran Wednesday. He was meeting early Thursday morning with Prime Minister Gilani and opposition leaders in hopes of reaching a reconciliation, according to reports.