The government of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said today that it may impose a state of emergency because of "external and internal threats" and deteriorating law and order in the volatile northwest near the Afghan border.
Tariq Azim, minister of state for information, said some sentiment coming from the United States, including from Democratic presidential hopeful Barak Obama, over the possibility of U.S. military action against al-Qaida in Pakistan "has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public."
Obama last week said that if he were president: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
But it appeared the motivation for a declaration of an emergency would be the domestic political woes of Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism who took power in a 1999 coup.
His popularity has dwindled and his standing has been badly shaken by a failed bid to oust the country's chief justice, an independent-minded judge likely to rule on expected legal challenges to the Musharraf's bid to seek a new five-year presidential term this fall.
The Pakistani government's comments on a possible emergency declaration came hours after Musharraf abruptly announced he was canceling a planned trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, today to attend a U.S.-backed tribal peace council aimed at curtailing cross-border militancy by the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Pakistani television networks reported that a declaration of an emergency was imminent, but other senior government officials said no final decision had been made.
One of Musharraf's worries back home is a Supreme Court hearing set for today on a petition in which exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - ousted in 1999 in the coup that brought Musharraf to power - and his brother are seeking to be allowed to return to Pakistan to contest parliamentary elections due by early 2008.
Speaking from London to Pakistan's Geo TV, Shahbaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz Sharif, 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.