Islamabad, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will give up his position as army chief if he wins re-election as president, a government lawyer said today.
The comment by government attorney Sharifuddin Pirzada was the first clear official announcement that Pakistan's military leader plans to contest the upcoming election while in uniform, then relinquish it afterward.
"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 oath of office of the president of Pakistan for the next term," Pirzada said in a statement to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, Pakistan's Election Commission had changed the rules to open the way for Musharraf to seek a new five-year presidential term without giving up the powerful position of army chief.
Opposition parties decried the move as a brazen violation of the constitution and accused the U.S.-allied leader of trying to bulldoze legal obstacles to his staying in power amid increasing demands for an end to military rule. They predicted a surge in democracy protests.
The ruling was likely to end up before the Supreme Court, which has proved an impediment to Musharraf this year and which many people hope can find a way to guide Pakistan out of a political crisis that some fear could lead to violent demonstrations and martial law.
The high court on Monday resumed hearing arguments on several petitions that seek to disqualify Musharraf as a presidential candidate.
Musharraf seized power in 1999 after a decade of chaotic civilian rule and pledged to eradicate Islamic extremism and bring "real" democracy to Pakistan.
Musharraf's popularity has plummeted since March when he tried to fire the Supreme Court's independent-minded chief justice, sparking widespread pro-democracy demonstrations led by the country's lawyers. The high court later ruled that the president could not remove the judge.
Musharraf retrieved some of the political initiative last week by blocking a personal challenge from another exiled prime minister, the man he toppled eight years ago in a bloodless coup. Nawaz Sharif was sent back into exile in Saudi Arabia just hours after he flew in.
However, in doing that, Musharraf has set up another showdown with the Supreme Court, which ruled earlier that the government could not prevent Sharif from coming home.