| Uniform issue
Islamabad, Sept. 18: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has promised to give up his title of army chief of staff if he is re-elected as President, his lawyer Sharifuddin Pirzada told the supreme court today.
Musharraf would step down from his army post after the election but before taking the oath of office for a new five-year term, Pirzada said.
The President’s assurance comes after the supreme court yesterday took up six challenges from Musharraf’s opponents against his bid for re-election and against his keeping the two offices of President and army chief.
“If elected for the second term, President Pervez Musharraf shall relinquish office of the chief of army staff soon after the election, but before taking oath of office of the President for the next term,” Pirzada said.
Reading from a statement on behalf of Musharraf, Pirzada said the election commissioner should now scrutinise Musharraf’s nomination papers independently and in accordance with the law.
Pirzada’s statement was immediately met both with criticism and scepticism by Opposition lawyers and political parties, who questioned whether the general would hold to any such promises and what he would do if not reelected.
Outside the court, Dr Tariq Hassan, an Opposition lawyer and the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, said the statement was “steeped in malafidies” and “political blackmailing”.
“The uniform will have a bearing on the elections, on the political process,” he said. “So, the timing of taking off the uniform is itself suspect.”
“What is he going to do if he is not re-elected'” Hassan asked. “Is he going to declare martial law' Is he going to declare emergency then' We don’t know.”
Zaffar Abbas, resident editor in Islamabad for the Dawn newspaper, said the general’s decision had sent a message to the court that he planned to restore civilian rule and was a coded appeal to Bhutto, who plans to make a triumphant return to Pakistan on October 18, for support after parliamentary elections due by January.
For months, Musharraf and Bhutto have been discussing a possible power-sharing deal, but talks have stalled amid opposition from hard-liners in the ruling coalition who could be eclipsed if Bhutto’s liberal Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) wins the general election.
However, Bhutto’s party reacted icily to today’s announcement.
“We cannot accept a uniformed President.... Musharraf’s decision to get himself re-elected in uniform is both unconstitutional and undemocratic,” PPP central information secretary Sherry Rehman said in Islamabad.
She said that her party opposes Musharraf’s re-election from the present parliament as unconstitutional on two grounds. Firstly, an army chief cannot contest presidential elections and secondly even after retiring an army chief has to wait two years to contest polls.