WASHINGTON, March 22: President General Pervez Musharraf has himself said that he would decide the dispute over his decision to retain the post of the army chief during elections, a senior US official said on Thursday.

Briefing South Asian journalists here, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also underlined the sensitivity of the current judicial crisis in Pakistan and hoped that Islamabad would handle it in a careful manner.

Asked if the US expected President Musharraf to give up the army post by the end of 2007, the official said: “That’s one of the questions President Musharraf said he will deal with in ... elections. We just expect to see how it is handled,” adding that the president had also promised to deal with the issue “in accordance with the Constitution...”

The official, however, said: “There are a lot of (other) questions involved in the elections that will have to be decided and worked with. Our goal is to hope that the elections are free and fair and open, that the people of Pakistan get a chance to decide their leadership.”Asked if the demonstrations against the Chief Justice’s suspension showed that democratic forces in Pakistan were trying to assert themselves, the official said: “I don’t think I would quite characterise the situation yet. It is obviously a very sensitive issue.” He said the US recognised that the situation needed to be handled carefully.

“That means the Supreme Judicial Council is going to have to constitute itself and review the situation. After that more information becomes public and they get the first take on the charges and the evidence and the situation.

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