Pakistan’s military chief has issued a veiled warning following reports that army officers are upset at how authorities have treated former military dictator Pervez Musharraf since his return from self-imposed exile. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani told an audience in Rawalpindi, where the army is headquartered, that retribution and threats alone will not “end the game of hide and seek" between democracy and dictatorship.
Musharraf returned in March after four years of self-imposed exile to take part in the national elections scheduled for later this month.
But election authorities disqualified Musharraf because of pending court cases against him. He is currently under house arrest for offenses including treason that the former military leader allegedly committed while in power. On Tuesday, a Pakistani court imposed a lifetime ban on Musharraf from contesting elections, dealing another blow to his attempts to make a political comeback.
The legal challenges and political criticism that greeted Musharraf’s homecoming reportedly prompted army officers to complain about the way armed forces are being treated by politicians and the domestic media.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the country for almost half of its existence as an independent nation. It remains the country’s most powerful institution, and is widely believed to set the country’s foreign and security policy. But during the past five years of civilian rule, the army has come under criticism for political interventions that some say have stunted Pakistan’s democratic development.
In a nationally televised speech Tuesday night to pay tribute to fallen Pakistani soldiers, Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani did not approve of the criticism of his institution.
General Kayani said that “it is not merely retribution, but awareness and participation of the masses that can truly end this game of hide and seek between democracy and dictatorship”.
Mushahid Hussain, who chairs the Senate Defense Committee, also attended the ceremony. He later told VOA that the army chief in his speech was referring to the scathing criticism of the armed forces and was not specifically referring to Musharraf's treatment by civil authorities.
"But the context was clear that if we are focusing only on revenge and retribution, as he put it, and we are looking back, then the current, contemporary and future challenges will be undermined and adversely affected. And I think that in that context you can relate it to what has been happening to his predecessor," said Hussain.
May 11 elections
Pakistan’s recent legislative National Assembly has completed its full five-year term in March. The country now stands on the brink of the first transition between democratically elected governments when elections are held on May 11.
As voting nears, Taliban and other insurgents have stepped up attacks on candidates and political workers across the country, raising doubts about whether elections will go forward as planned. General Kayani in his speech dismissed those fears, saying the army will extend full support to election authorities to ensure the process goes ahead on time.