Pakistan's beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf has no plans to impose emergency rule, contrary to widespread reports that he was about to announce the authoritarian measure, the president of the ruling party said on Thursday.
There is no possibility of an emergency, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the president of Pakistan Muslim League, told reporters at parliament.
Private television channels and newspapers had reported that Musharraf was poised to take a step that would probably delay elections due by the turn of the year and could result in restrictions on rights of assembly and place curbs on the media.
An aide to the president said the measure had not been under consideration at any time over the past few days, and the leadership had been perplexed by how the story had emerged.
The imposition of an emergency is a constitutionally available option, but it has never been under consideration in the past few days, said the aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, after attending the meeting called at the president's army camp office in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.
At least one senior political ally had told Reuters that the measure was under discussion and a decision would be taken imminently.
Another member of Musharraf's inner circle had suggested that the government wanted to gauge the possible reaction if it took this step.
A government spokesman had suggested the government could justify emergency rule by citing mounting insecurity after a spate of attacks -- many of them suicide bombings -- by Islamist militants allied to the Taliban and al Qaeda over the past month.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said the measure could be warranted by the deteriorating security situation in tribal areas and North West Frontier Province and suggestions by U.S. politicians that America should be prepared to strike inside Pakistani territory if it possessed actionable intelligence on al Qaeda or Taliban targets.
But analysts and opposition leaders feared Musharraf might resort to an emergency because of constitutional difficulties he faces getting re-elected by the sitting assemblies while still army chief, and to stave off parliamentary elections due by the turn of the year.
Imposition of an emergency would not lead to stability and, therefore, I hope that such a big step would not be taken, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the self-exiled leader of the largest opposition party, told Geo News overnight.
Nasim Zehra, a respected political analyst, said Musharraf would risk his political future if he chose emergency rule.
Unless Musharraf makes a U-turn, or there is no consequential political response, the die is cast for more conflict that could lead to Musharraf going home, Zehra said.
Television news channels first reported that Musharraf was going to declare an emergency late on Wednesday night, and newspapers ran banner headlines on Thursday morning.
There were reports that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rang Musharraf overnight to discuss developments.
Mohammad Abdullah, an Islamabad college student, spoke of the sense of foreboding spreading throughout Pakistan as he bought a newspaper warning of an impending emergency, though the streets of the capital appeared normal, with no extra security evident.
People already have a sense of insecurity and any such step would make them feel more unsafe and insecure, Abdullah said.
However, the Karachi stock market, which had shrugged off political uncertainties for weeks as it hovered near life highs, slumped by more than four percent within minutes of opening.