U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday he was concerned that instability in Pakistan could distract Pakistani forces from anti-terrorist operations.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency last Saturday, and security forces have since detained thousands of people.
Gates said Musharraf had been an important U.S. ally in President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” declared after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
He noted that General Musharraf had set a new date for parliamentary elections. Musharraf said on Thursday the polls would take place by February 15, about a month later than scheduled.
“I think that’s very important,” Gates told reporters aboard his plane as he flew back to Washington from Tokyo at the end of a three-nation tour of east Asia.
“We said from the very beginning it’s important to move back to constitutional processes as quickly as possible.”
He added: “The concern I have is that the longer the internal problems continue, the more distracted the Pakistani army and security services will be in terms of the internal situation rather than focusing on the terrorist threat in the frontier area.”
Pakistani forces have been fighting Islamist militants holed up in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said they believe the area has become a sanctuary for leaders of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, possibly including bin Laden himself.