SWAT, Pakistan - Islamic militants yesterday paraded 48 men described as government troops who surrendered during fighting, an embarrassment to President Pervez Musharraf as he struggles to regain control of a mountainous region from Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked extremists.
Admiral William Fallon, the chief of the US Central Command, met with Musharraf and other top generals yesterday to discuss the volatile situation in Pakistan's northwest. Washington backs Musharraf as a bulwark in its war on terrorism.
The rising violence and political turmoil have fueled fears that Musharraf might extend his military rule by imposing a state of emergency or martial law, jeopardizing a promised transition to democracy. The Bush administration and European allies have opposed such measures.
"I think it would be quite obvious that the United States wouldn't be supportive of extraconstitutional means," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Ireland ahead of a diplomatic mission to Turkey and the Middle East.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said elements in Pakistan's ruling party were pushing for such a move in case the Supreme Court disqualifies Musharraf's Oct. 6 presidential victory because he did not first give up his position as army chief.
A verdict is due before his current term expires Nov. 15, after which Pakistan is due to hold parliamentary elections by January.
The deteriorating security situation adds to the sense of crisis. Pakistan has been rocked by a string of suicide bombings and clashes between soldiers and Islamic militants who have expanded their influence inland beyond strongholds in border regions. The army said it killed up to 70 rebels Thursday when helicopter gunships pounded the once-popular tourist destination of Swat, where a hard-line cleric is trying to enforce Taliban-style rule.