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Musharraf: Pakistan's military need political role

By Sylvia Hui
Associated Press Writer / September 29, 2010

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LONDON—Pakistan's former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, said Wednesday that the country's armed forces need to play a larger political role, as he discussed plans for his own bid to return to power as a civilian.

Musharraf told a meeting in central London that Pakistan's army should have a constitutional role, rather than an informal position, in the country's leadership.

"The situation in Pakistan can only be resolved when the military has some role," Musharraf said, in a public interview with a former British ambassador to the U.S., Christopher Meyer.

"Pakistan's army chief ought to be involved in some form, to ensure checks and balances, to ensure good governance," Musharraf said. "We must involve the military men. They should have a place to voice their concerns."

Musharraf's successor as army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has won praise in Pakistan for focusing the military on fighting insurgents and not disrupting Pakistan's return to civilian rule.

However, analysts point to rumors that the military is gearing up to engineer an alternative to President Asif Ali Zardari's elected government. They suggest Musharraf could carve out a space for himself as negotiator between the military and civilian leadership.

Pakistan's army has ruled the country for about half of the 63 years since its independence from Britain and still retains enormous influence.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and stepped down in 2008 amid nationwide protests, has said he will return to his country for the next set of national elections in 2013. He plans to announce the political platform of the All Pakistan Muslim League in London on Friday.

Although Musharraf had said he is confident he can regain popularity in Pakistan, analysts are doubtful he still wields influence in the country's military circles. The former leader has no strong connections to Pakistan's parties, they said, and the electorate is unlikely to welcome a former military dictator back with open arms.

"He is very much yesterday's man," said Shaun Gregory, an expert on Pakistan at northern England's University of Bradford. "He was basically forced out of his army position and the presidency; he was under pressure from several political parties for corruption and the coup in 1999. This is a man with a lot of powerful political enemies in Pakistan."

Musharraf, 67, suffered a drastic loss of popularity in 2007 after firing the chief justice -- who has since been reinstated -- and calling a subsequent state of emergency that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. He was brought down in August 2008 after months of protests and a heavy election defeat for his supporters.

The former leader now spends most of his time living in Britain and giving private lectures to professionals. His return to Pakistan will almost certainly be greeted by legal challenges by his political opponents.

A crucial U.S. ally in the "war on terror" during his rule, Musharraf may be relying on support from an educated, Westernized Pakistani elite -- but his relationship with Washington also means that his standing is poor among a largely anti-U.S. electorate.

"The only thing Musharraf's got going for him at the moment is the support of diaspora Pakistanis and maybe the army. I cannot see him at the moment generating the necessary power base from the ground," Gregory said.

A new political party has little chance to make a breakthrough because Pakistani parties tend to draw heavily on ethnic and regional bases, he said.

However, some observers suggest the former leader could also be looking at a comeback in the longer term and potential opportunities beyond the 2013 elections.

"Maybe he's playing a longer game," said Gareth Price, who heads the Asia program at London-based think tank Chatham House. "But my sense is that Pakistan has probably moved on."

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