ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf will stay on as army chief if he is not re-elected for another five years as president, the government told the Supreme Court Tuesday.
The statement was a reminder that the embattled Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, still has the powerful army to fall back on if he fails to secure another term in the poll due on October 6.
Musharraf, a key US ally, has not ruled out imposing martial law if the Supreme Court upholds a series of challenges that it is hearing against his eligibility to stand in the poll.
“It is very clear that if not elected he will remain chief of army staff,” Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum told the court, when asked about the likely scenario if Musharraf is not re-elected.
Musharraf signed his election nomination papers on Tuesday, said Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and other allies proposed the nomination, he said.
Musharraf said last week that he would stand down from the army — an occupation he described earlier this year as being “part of my skin” — if re-elected. The poll will be conducted by the outgoing parliament.
The former commando said he would then be sworn in as civilian president of the nuclear-armed Islamic republic of 160 million people before his current term expires on November 15.
But opposition parties have pledged a protest campaign, saying he cannot stand for a variety of reasons including that it is illegal to be president while remaining army chief.
The Supreme Court is due to decide on the opposition petitions against the elections later this week. The building was guarded by hundreds of police and armoured police vans on Tuesday.
Musharraf, 64, found out on Monday that he faces his first challenger in the election, a former Supreme Court judge who refused to take an oath of allegiance to him after the coup eight years ago.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that around 100 opposition activists have been detained since the weekend for planning demonstrations, a move that has sparked international criticism.
Police rounded up protesters after clashes in Islamabad on Monday and key activists over the weekend, including Javed Hashmi, the acting chief of exiled former premier Nawaz Sharif’s party.
“The government took the action to protect public peace and order,” ministry spokesman Javed Cheema told a weekly briefing while giving the figure for the number of arrests.
Pakistan earlier rejected an unusually harsh rebuke by the United States for the opposition arrests and a demand that the authorities free the men.
The US embassy in Islamabad issued a rare statement the previous day branding the detentions “extremely disturbing and confusing for the friends of Pakistan”.
“The United States normally understands our internal situation better than others because it a very close ally,” Pakistan’s Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azeem told AFP.
“I am sure it realises that democratic society needs the rule of law and not rule by the mob,” he said.
Azeem accused the opposition of attacking the Supreme Court, intimidating judges hearing the case against Musharraf and of threatening to besiege the election commission during the filing of nomination papers.
Lawyers Tuesday called for a strike and protests on Saturday, when the nominations are due to be scrutinised. The legal fraternity has opposed Musharraf since he tried to sack the chief justice in March.