Confusion prevailed in Pakistan over reports that the government was considering imposing a state of emergency in the country, drawing protest from the opposition, who contended there was no justification for the move.
The speculation gained further ground when President General Pervez Musharraf pulled out -- at the last minute -- from a major tribal council in Afghanistan, the Pak-Afghan Loya Jirga, aimed at ending Taliban and Al Qaeda-sponsored terrorism, which starts today, citing security reasons.
Though government sources have denied that any such measure is being contemplated, media reports quoted high-level sources said the decision whether or not to impose a state of emergency in the country hangs in the balance and is expected any time.
"It is now a matter of days," they cited a senior Muslim League leader, reportedly close to the President, as saying.
"The president's kitchen cabinet deliberated on the issue last night and his advisers pressed him to impose emergency in view of the current political situation in which certain unexpected decisions on various constitutional petitions including the one related to his uniform are expected," he added.
The private Geo TV also said that a high-level meeting presided over by the President decided last night to declare emergency in the country for one month that could be extended for three months, quoting "well-placed sources." The meeting reviewed the current political situation and various options regarding changes in the political set-up came under discussion, they said.
However, the channel cited government sources as denying the reports about the declaration of emergency.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called up General Musharraf early this morning, and spoke to him at length, reports said. It is learnt that the call came after 0200 hrs (Pakistan Standard Time) last night, and the two leaders spoke for over 15 minutes, though there was no information of what they talked about.
The Opposition reacted sharply to the reported moves.
Renowned lawyer and Pakistan People's Party (Parliamentarians) leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan said there was a "state of confusion among the government circles over the promulgation of emergency, as it was corroborated by Federal Minister Sher Afghan and repudiated by (Minister of State for Information & Brodcasting) Tariq Azeem."
Asked to what was the reason for the government mulling over promulgating a state of emergency, Chaudhry Aitzaz told Geo News that it was due to the Supreme Court hearing the petition regarding former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif's return home.
The channel also quoted Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Shahbaz Sharif as saying he saw no justification for emergency in the country, and asserting that in case it was promulgated, they would challenge it in court.
Speaking from London, he said an emergency would be aimed at stopping "two pillars of the country, two citizens of the country" from coming back.
"This will be another blunder by Musharraf. There is no justification, no basis for emergency," he said, seeking to know why emergency had not been imposed when Lal Masjid operation was underway and attacks were taking place in the country.