Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, facing growing calls to chart a return to Democracy, indicated Wednesday he will quit as army chief if he is re-elected. Eight years after seizing power in a military coup, Mr. Musharaff is due to face re-election before his term ends in mid-November.
His opponents want him to shed his uniform now. But as the president's popularity plummets, the key to the country's future might again lie with the military. From Islamabad, Simon Marks reports for VOA.
For more than half of its 60 years, Pakistan has been under military rule. General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999 -- the latest in a series of military officers who replaced civilian leaders.
But after failing to deliver on a promise to reinstate democratic rule, Mr. Musharaff has grown increasingly unpopular. His approval rating hovers around 35 percent.
Opposition lawmaker Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan says the military has always seen itself as guardian of Pakistan's national interests. "And this is one area where the military now feels that they are fast losing grip, they are losing credibility, they are losing respect. And there is only one person who is responsible for that, and that is Pervez Musharraf."
For the first time in the country's history, Ali Khan says, citizens link the army to an unpopular president and are openly hostile to officers. "It is not a secret any more. Military generals have been stopped on the streets and insulted and humiliated."
Opposition groups have petitioned Pakistan's Supreme Court, disputing the legality of Mr. Musharraf's plan to run for another five-year term while still army chief.
A government lawyer told the court Mr. Musharaff will abandon his uniform and govern as a civilian before taking office for a second term. The Pakistani leader historically relied on support from within military ranks for his Presidency.
But retired army officers, like Lieutenant General Talat Masood, who writes on Pakistani politics, worry about the public's lack of respect and Musharaff's unpopularity. "Well, it is possible if things get out of hand, then it is very likely that a time might come when the senior, you know, military leadership may say that, 'President Musharraf, we have backed you, we have supported you. But now, I think, it is time that you go voluntarily. Otherwise, we will have to really save the institution and the country'."
Masood says most Pakistani officers he knows favor free elections and many do not want Mr. Musharraf to run. But as the Pakistani leader continues to chart his own political future, military and civilian opponents may end up disappointed.