Musharraf Heads to Saudi Arabia

Acting President Musharraf has relaxed emergency rule a bit by freeing thousands of dissidents and political opponents as he heads to Saudi Arabia. It is likely that he will meet with ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif once there, now that his power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto has thoroughly collapsed.

More at Reuters:

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan freed thousands of lawyers and opposition activists held under emergency powers on Tuesday, as President Pervez Musharraf arrived in Saudi Arabia, where old foe Nawaz Sharif lives in exile.

Army chief General Musharraf has been under pressure from the opposition and Western governments to revoke the emergency rule imposed on November 3 and ensure elections in January are held under free and fair conditions.

In a sign that the emergency was being relaxed, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema announced around 3,400 detainees had been released by Tuesday and some 2,000 more would be released soon.

Increasingly isolated at home, Musharraf flew to Saudi Arabia leaving a trail of speculation that he would reach out to Sharif, the prime minister he deposed in a 1999 coup, who is now living in exile in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

The speculation is running two ways — that he might negotiate with the Saudis to keep Nawaz there until after elections, or that he might be trying to make a deal with Nawaz. Sharif has stated that he will not meet with Musharraf until emergency rule is completely rolled back.

Meanwhile the replacement Supreme Court has knocked down five of the challenges to Musharraf’s election as president in Parliament in October, and the remainder lack substance. Musharraf still says he will remove the uniform as soon as he is clearly declared president.

Yesterday the New York Times speculated that the US could have a proposal to work with tribal chiefs from the Afghan side of the border to help them fight the rising Islamist tide in their tribal lands, and in that background the head of the ISI is also traveling with Musharraf as he heads to Mecca for the pilgrimage.

In Swat the fighting with Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban continues, with the army making slow advances, trying to pinpoint target the leaders of the insurrection. More on that at The Long War.