musharraf 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
President Pervez Musharraf lifted Pakistan's six-week-old state of emergency and restored the constitution Saturday, easing a crackdown that has enraged opponents and worried Western supporters.
Information Minister Nisar Memon said Musharraf had signed the order lifting the emergency. He called it a "historic day" and said next month's parliamentary elections would cement the country's return to democracy.
"The caretaker government is under oath to hold free, fair, transparent and impartial elections to put the country back on track," Memon said.
The order also contains a controversial clause that enshrines other orders and provisions that Musharraf has imposed under the emergency, saying they "shall not be called into question by or before any court."
Musharraf, who was to make a televised address to the nation Saturday evening, still faces criticism at home and abroad that the Jan. 8 ballot will be flawed. The US-backed leader cast Pakistan into turmoil and raised serious doubts over the credibility of the vote, which will determine who will form the country's new government, by imposing emergency rule Nov. 3.
Musharraf has said he imposed the state of emergency to halt a "conspiracy" by top judges to end his eight-year rule and ward off political chaos that would hobble Pakistan's efforts against Islamic extremism. He has also insisted that the Supreme Court, which had been poised to rule on the legality of his October re-election, was acting beyond the constitution.
But moves he made Friday to tweak the constitution to shore up his legal defenses appeared to confirm the opinion of many legal experts that the president's case had been weak.
The president removed a condition from the charter stating that civil servants had to wait two years after their retirement before running for elected office, Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum told The Associated Press.
Musharraf stepped down as army chief only last month.
Qayyum said other changes sealed the retirement of purged Supreme Court judges, including former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who either refused or were not invited to sign a fresh oath after the emergency. Their replacements swiftly approved Musharraf's re-election in October by a Parliament stacked with his supporters.
Qayyum said Musharraf was considering whether to grant an opposition demand for the suspension of mayors to prevent them from influencing the parliamentary and provincial elections, and whether to lift a ban on anyone serving more than twice as prime minister. That could ease his fraught relations with opposition leaders and archrivals Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
However, Sen. Raza Rabbani of Bhutto's party said removing the mayors less than four weeks before the elections was "eyewash" for the international community.
Both Musharraf and his Western backers say they want the election to produce a stable, moderate government strong enough to stand up to a wave of Islamic militancy.
However, Musharraf has clamped down on independent media and purged the judiciary, prompting Bhutto and Sharif to warn of mass demonstrations if they think the vote has been rigged in favor of pro-Musharraf rivals.
Sharif took aim at Musharraf on Friday when he unveiled his manifesto and listed the restoration of the judiciary and an end to military interference in politics as its first two goals.
"Repeated army intervention has caused the collapse of our institutions ... and halted Pakistan's economic growth," he told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore.
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber on a bicycle killed at least five people outside an army camp in northwest Pakistan on Saturday morning, the army spokesman said.
The attack occurred at a checkpoint near the gate of the army school in the town of Nowshehra about 120 kilometers northwest of Islamabad, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said. Two soldiers and three civilians died, in addition to the bomber, while six people were wounded, he said.
Arshad said security personnel cordoned off the area and were collecting evidence at the scene.