The US and Britain are today expected to demand that Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, honour pledges to hold elections in the next two months and step down as the army chief, or face a cut in western support.
The diplomatic showdown will come in the form of a meeting in Islamabad between the Pakistani leader and a group of ambassadors, two days after he declared emergency rule - and three days after giving assurances to the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, that he would stick to an election deadline in mid-January, and step down as head of the country's army.
But the ruling alliance is divided on the question and it is expected that the ultimate decision would be taken in a week in this regard. Highly placed sources told The News that the meeting was also attended by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, president PML Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain and other leaders.
It was resolved in the meeting that the state of emergency would not be prolonged. The ruling alliance is reportedly divided over the schedule of the general polls and for that reason no decision could be finalised in the meeting.
One group of the alliance is asking for extending the tenure of the present assemblies by at least six months while the other group is of the view that the general elections must be held without any delay and for the purpose the dates already announced must be adhered to.
Aziz acknowledged that 500 opposition activists had been arrested. Opposition groups said the number was higher. Ahsan Iqbal, the spokesman for an opposition party led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, said that as many as 1,000 activists from his party had been detained, including top leaders. Iqbal said Musharraf was "guilty of treason" for suspending the constitution.
Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights lawyer, reported in an e-mail that she had been ordered to stay confined to her home for 90 days. She said it was ironic that Musharraf "had to clamp down on the press and the judiciary to curb terrorism," adding, "Those he has arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires."