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Pakistani Officials Predict Musharraf May Soon Abandon Army Post

Pakistan's attorney general says conditions may be appropriate in the coming days for President Pervez Musharraf to honor his pledge to step down as army chief. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that Pakistan's prime minister asked for the Commonwealth to postpone its decision about dropping Pakistan from the 53-nation group because of the emergency rule declared by General Musharraf.

Attorney General Malik Qayyum told reporters in Islamabad that if the Supreme Court dismisses the final challenge to President Musharraf's re-election this week, he could step down as army chief as early as Saturday or Sunday.

General Musharraf's critics and Western nations have urged the leader to abandon his military role and become an exclusively civilian president. The president has promised to step down as soon as the legal challenges to his re-election are resolved and his October election victory is declared official.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's foreign ministry said caretaker Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro spoke with Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown about the ongoing state of emergency in Pakistan and how it could affect Pakistan's membership in the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth foreign ministers are considering excluding Pakistan because of its suspension of basic rights under emergency rule.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, or CMAG, should delay the decision.

"CMAG should have a short postponement of the decision and immediately send a delegation to Pakistan to look at the situation in the country," said Sadiq.

Sadiq said Pakistan values the diplomatic links available through its membership in the 53-nation forum.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's military continues to battle pro-Taliban militants who have taken over parts of the Northwest Frontier Provinces.

Major General Wahid Arshad told VOA that troops killed some 40 militants in the last two days. He said operations using artillery and helicopter gunships have largely succeeded in driving the militants out of the more urban areas of Swat and Shangla districts.

"We have asked people from a couple of villages to leave because the militants were forcing inhabitants to give them their places to target the security forces. So we asked them to leave so that we can isolate the militants and separate them from innocent civilians," said Arshad.

Thousands of people have reportedly fled the violence. General Arshad says the military is bringing in supplies and shelter for those displaced by the fighting.