ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The government freed more jailed political activists Wednesday, and a senior official said President Gen. Pervez Musharraf might step down as army chief this weekend, moves that could blunt opposition threats to boycott parliamentary elections.
It remained unclear, however, when Musharraf might lift a state of emergency that has worsened Pakistan’s political turmoil just as the government confronts rising Islamic militancy.
The United States and other Western nations are pressuring him to end emergency rule if he hopes to repair his bruised credentials as a democrat and a reliable ally in the fight against international terrorism.
Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said Musharraf would quickly fulfill his promise to quit his army post and be sworn in for a new five-year presidential term as a civilian.
“It may happen on Saturday. … I know the president, and he will honor his commitment,” Qayyum said.
Meeting another key demand of domestic critics, Washington and the European Union, authorities said they have now freed most of the thousands of activists rounded up since Musharraf suspended the constitution and decreed emergency powers Nov. 3.
Law Minister Afzal Hayder announced on state television that the government had released 5,634 lawyers and political party members. He said 623 people remained in custody, but that they would be let go soon.
Those freed included Imran Khan, a former cricket star who has become a firebrand in the opposition to Musharraf’s rule. Khan said he would continue a hunger strike begun in custody and boycott the election in hopes of forcing Musharraf to give up all power.
“Musharraf is staging a drama to deceive America and the West whom he scared that without him the nuclear bomb will get into extremist hands,” Khan told reporters.
Some people have voiced concerns that the crisis could undermine the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but the top U.S. military officer said this week that there were no signs of that.