At a private meeting of European Community ambassadors in Islamabad on Monday there was a consensus that the four- month power struggle between the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had made Pakistan virtually ungovernable. 'Democracy has been derailed and it appears that only the army can do a repair job. We will back the army to put the train of democracy back on the rails,' said a senior Western diplomat.
The ambassadors will recommend to their governments that if the President declares an emergency and the army is called upon to supervise elections, EC aid should not be cut off. The only dissenting voice was that of Britain, as John Major has a close relationship with Mr Sharif. Other EC diplomats said that even martial law would be acceptable if it were imposed briefly and with the express purpose of holding elections.
The US has also moved away from its previous support for Mr Sharif, believing now that only the military can restore stability. Japan, once a key supporter of the Prime Minister and the largest aid donor to Pakistan, is critical of the government's unwillingness to compromise with its opponents. Western diplomats say further instability in Pakistan, where friction between the four provinces is high, could worsen tensions in a region which already has three armed conflicts - in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kashmir.
Another reason for the shift in Western thinking is the army's unusual reluctance to seize power, as it has done on three previous occasions. Diplomats believe the army chief of staff, General Abdul Waheed, has no political ambition, unlike his predecessors, while the Islamic fundamentalist streak in the military is no longer prevalent.
The army is co-operating closely with US and Middle East intelligence agencies to round up Arab militants active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Pakistani forces are taking part in UN peace-keeping operations in Somalia and Kuwait.
Gen Waheed has been shuttling between Prime Minister and President to persuade them to come to an agreement. He has also urged Mr Sharif to hold elections, but insists Mr Ishaq Khan must resign first.