Rice urges return to democracy in Pakistan

By Assocaited Press
Published November 4, 2007

ISTANBUL, Turkey - The Bush administration said Saturday it was deeply disturbed by the state of emergency in Pakistan and urged a swift return to a democratic and civilian government. The Pentagon said Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration does not affect U.S. military support of Pakistan, however.

The stakes are high and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is closely monitoring the fast-developing situation, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

"Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror," Morrell told reporters aboard Gates' plane as he traveled to China.

The emergency declaration "does not impact our military support of Pakistan" or its efforts in the war on terror, Morrell said of the country that's a key U.S. partner in the fight against al-Qaida militants.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking the U.S. lead in dealing with the situation, Morrell said, and Gates had not spoken to Musharraf and had no plans to during his 17-hour flight to Beijing.

Rice said that, to her knowledge, Bush administration officials had yet to hear from Musharraf since his declaration Saturday.

"The U.S. has made clear it does not support extraconstitutional measures because those measures take Pakistan away from the path of democracy and civilian rule," Rice said. "Whatever happens we will be urging a quick return to civilian rule."

Adm. William J. Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, met with Musharraf and other top generals on Friday to discuss the security situation in northwest Pakistan. Fallon made no direct threats but warned that seizing power could jeopardize U.S. military aid, Morrell said.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the main opposition leader, returned early from a visit in Dubai, setting up the possibility that she and her party, as well as other opposition groups, could organize demonstrations against the president. She mocked Musharraf and accused him of using the specter of terrorism to prolong his hold on power. "This is not emergency," she said. "This is martial law."

Information from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.