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Pakistan President May Relinquish Military Role

Sharfuddin Pirzada, lawyer for Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is surrounded by media representatives as he leaves the Supreme Court after a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday.
Aamir Qureshi
AFP/Getty Images
Sharfuddin Pirzada, lawyer for Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is surrounded by media representatives as he leaves the Supreme Court after a hearing in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday.

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will step down as army chief if he is re-elected and will be sworn in as a civilian, a government lawyer said Tuesday.

Speaking to the Supreme Court, government attorney Sharifuddin Pirzada announced Musharraf's plan to end direct military rule eight years after the leader seized power in a bloodless coup. The court is hearing petitions that challenge Musharraf's dual role as president and army chief and his eligibility to run for re-election next month.

"If elected for the second term as president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf shall relinquish charge of the office of the chief of army staff soon after election, but before taking the oath of office of the president of Pakistan for the next term," Pirzada told the judges.

Musharraf's rivals — two former prime ministers now living in exile — are challenging Musharraf in court and Monday's rule change by the Election Commission that allows Musharraf to seek a new term without first resigning his army role.

Officials in former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's party protested Musharraf's new plan.

"Gen. Musharraf's decision to get himself re-elected in uniform is both unconstitutional and undemocratic," party information secretary Sherry Rehman said.

Rehman said the party's lawmakers might resign in protest — a move that other opposition parties have vowed to take in order to deny Musharraf legitimacy — unless the government dropped corruption cases against Bhutto and other politicians and let her again run for prime minister.

"If these steps for national reconciliation are not taken, the Pakistan People's Party will consider resigning from the Parliament," Rehman said.

A leader in the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in 1999, also said the move is illegal.

"He is blackmailing. This is a threat from him. He is saying that first you elect me as the president and then I will quit as the army chief," said Zafar Ali Shah.

Sharif tried to return to Pakistan earlier this month to campaign against Musharraf, but he was sent back into exile.

Musharraf plans to run for a new five-year term in a vote by all federal and provincial lawmakers due by Oct. 15, a month before the end of his current term.

However, his authority has waned in recent months after a failed attempt to fire the Supreme Court's top judge. He also faces a wave of violence blamed on Taliban and al-Qaida militants that has intensified popular discontent over his alliance with Washington.

Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, predicted that Musharraf's decision about his military role "will lower the political temperature and it will deprive the opposition of a major contentious issue."

"It divided the Pakistan polity. It had undermined Pakistan's international image because people said you don't have full democracy. I think we have moved on," Hussain told reporters on the steps of the court.

Musharraf has tried to negotiate a possible power-sharing deal with Bhutto, but negotiations have snagged amid opposition from right-wingers in the ruling party who could be eclipsed if Bhutto returns. She has said she plans to go back to Pakistan on Oct. 18.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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