ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s powerful army chief has suggested the military is unhappy with how authorities have treated former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf since his return from exile.
A Pakistani court on Tuesday imposed a lifetime ban on Musharraf from contesting elections, undermining his efforts to regain influence by winning a seat in parliament.
The former army chief returned in March after nearly four years of self-imposed exile to contest a May 11 general election, but election officers disqualified him because of court cases pending against him.
In what newspapers described as a veiled reference to Musharraf’s legal troubles, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani said: “In my opinion, 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.”
Kayani, arguably the most powerful figure in Pakistan, was delivering a Martyrs’ Day speech at army headquarters. Newspapers carried his comments on front pages.
The military has ruled Pakistan for than half of its 66-year-history, through coups or from behind the scenes. It sets security and foreign policy, even when civilian governments are in power.
Current commanders have meddled less in politics, letting civilian governments take the heat for policy failures.
But Kayani has had an uneasy relationship with civilian leaders, as well as an increasingly interventionist Supreme Court, which has questioned the military’s human rights record.
The chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was embroiled in a confrontation with Musharraf, who removed him from office in 2007 after he opposed plans to extend the general’s stay in power. Chaudhry was later reinstated.
Musharraf’s has been embroiled in legal issues since his return.
He became the first former army chief to be arrested in Pakistan when police took him into custody at their headquarters last Friday, breaking an unwritten rule that the top ranks of the military are untouchable, even after they have retired.
On April 20, a court remanded the former president in custody for two weeks, a term set to expire on May 4, as judges pushed ahead with plans to put Musharraf on trial for a crackdown on the judiciary during his time in office.
On Tuesday, an anti-terrorism court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi put Musharraf on 14-day judicial remand for charges of failing to provide adequate security for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto before her 2007 assassination.
Musharraf ousted then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999. Sharif is seen as the front-runner in the election.
Editing by Robert Birsel