BBC NEWS 24 Pakistan considers emergency rule Gen Musharraf faces increasing unrest and opposition at home Pakistan's government is considering imposing emergency rule, the country's information minister has said. Tariq Azeem said the issue was being discussed, given external and internal threats to the country. It came hours after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called off plans to attend a US-backed tribal peace conference in Afghanistan. Emergency rule would limit the role of the courts, restrict civil liberties and curb freedom of expression. The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says opposition and media figures believe such a drastic move would be related more to domestic politics, particularly Gen Musharraf's desire to be re-elected for another term as both president and head of the army. This would almost certainly trigger legal challenges and a state of emergency would limit the role of the courts, she says. 'Difficult circumstances' Gen Musharraf faces a volatile political and security situation after a siege at a radical Islamabad mosque and protests by lawyers angry at the sacking of the country's chief justice. The possibility of an emergency cannot be ruled out Tariq Azeem Pakistan Information Minister "The possibility of the enforcement of emergency, like other possibilities, is under discussion," Mr Azeem said, although he stressed that the measure might not be necessary. "I cannot say that it will be tonight, tomorrow or later. We hope that it does not happen. "But we are going through difficult circumstances so the possibility of an emergency cannot be ruled out," the Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying. He said US threats to launch an operation in the tribal areas and the recent targeting of Chinese nationals by Islamic militants had played a role in the issue being discussed. "In addition, the situation on the borders and the suicide attacks are also a concern," Mr Azeem added. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly spoke at length with Gen Musharraf early on Thursday, amid widespread reports of the possibility of an emergency. A meeting of senior government officials headed by President Musharraf is expected to be held on Thursday to decide the issue. Elections threat Under a state of emergency, powers to detain citizens would be extended and parliament could extend its tenure by a year. The emergency is a big step and the government should think twice before enforcing it Benazir Bhutto Opposition leader It would also allow the president to postpone national elections due to be held later in 2007. This could enable him to continue in his role as chief of Pakistan's powerful military. Opposition political parties, like Pakistan's largest party, the PPP, want Gen Musharraf to give up the role. "The emergency is a big step and the government should think twice before enforcing it," said former Prime Minister and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto. "I hope such a drastic step will not take place. "It will be a retrogressive step taking the country backwards." Gen Musharraf pulled out of the three-day Afghan council, or jirga, on combating the Taleban, citing commitments in Islamabad. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will attend in his place. Up to 700 tribal elders, Islamic clerics and leaders of both countries are invited to the council, starting on Thursday, which will discuss terrorism. The Taleban have not been included, and are calling for a boycott of the event.