Don McKinnon the Commonwealth secretary-general arrived Wednesday to assess Pakistan's political situation ahead of elections began, his three-day stay by holding closed-door talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, state television reported. McKinnon is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri.
The visit comes a day after a government lawyer announced Musharraf would quit as army chief if lawmakers re-elect him president in a vote expected by Oct. 15 _ a move hailed by the government as a watershed for democracy but rejected by political foes as illegal.
The Commonwealth, a 53-member grouping of former British colonies, suspended this Islamic nation from its decision-making councils when Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Pakistan was readmitted to full membership in May 2004, but since then the grouping has urged Musharraf to doff his uniform.
During his stay, McKinnon, a former New Zealand government minister, will "seek an assessment of political developments in Pakistan, and inquire about plans for the elections to the National and Provincial Assemblies due to be held in the next few months," a Commonwealth statement said.
Tuesday's announcement was the first clear official statement that Musharraf was ready to end direct military rule, eight years after he seized control of the Islamic world's only declared nuclear power in a coup.
The move could ease fears that Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in its war in terrorism, is veering toward authoritarian rule as Pakistan approaches critical elections.