WASHINGTON, Nov 11: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday described Gen Pervez Musharraf’s decision to hold elections before Jan 9 as a positive step, but said the emergency must go as well.

“And the first step is to make certain that the state of emergency ends,” said Ms Rice while explaining what she thought the government in Islamabad needed to do to return the country on the democratic path.

She, however, rejected the suggestion that the general must also step down, saying that “this is not a personal matter about President Musharraf”.

In an interview with ABC News ‘This Week’ talk show, Ms Rice indicated that President Musharraf could stay if he ended emergency, held parliamentary elections and took off his uniform.

Ms Rice also said that the current political crisis would not affect the US-Pakistan cooperation to counter terrorism.

The US assistance for improving the Pakistani economy, for uplifting the fate of the Pakistani people and for reforming the education system would also continue.

She said that Pakistan was passing through an “extraordinarily difficult” phase and it would be a mistake to abandon Pakistan in the present circumstances.

“If the suggestion is that we somehow now abandon a course that could lead back to a path of democracy for Pakistan, I think that would be a mistake on our part,” she said.

“My reaction is that the positive element here, that the elections are going to be held and held very soon,” said Ms Rice when asked to comment on Gen Musharraf’s pledge to hold the elections by Jan 9.

She also noted that Gen Musharraf said he was going to take off his uniform. “These have both been essential to getting Pakistan back on a democratic path,” she said.

“Obviously, we are also encouraging that the state of emergency has got to be lifted, and lifted as soon as possible.”