Retired generals tell Musharraf to go
Retired Generals Urge Pakistan's President Musharraf to Step Down

Jan 23, 2008 15:29 EST

An influential group of former military officers called on Pakistan's embattled president to step down, a move that could further undermine the U.S.-allied leader ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

A statement by the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen's Society blamed President Pervez Musharraf for the current crisis in the country and said the former army commander no longer "represents the unity and the symbol of the federation as president."

"This is in the supreme national interest and it makes it incumbent on him to step down," said the statement signed by more than 100 former generals, admirals, air marshals and other retired officers and enlisted men. It was issued after a meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday of the association's leadership.

Musharraf was commander of the army until stepping down last month.

The society normally limits itself to dealing with pensions and other issues relating to retired military personnel and does not speak for serving officers. Its tough stance is an embarrassment to Musharraf as he travels around Europe seeking support for his government.

"The feeling was unanimous and strong among the (retired) officers and other ranks that Musharraf is the problem and that he is a source of divisiveness ... and an impediment to democracy," said Talat Masood, a retired general who is now a prominent political analyst.

"He is bringing down the reputation of the army, and undermining its support among the people which it needs in the war on terror," said Masood, who attended the meeting. "He has brought disgrace on all ranks."

In November, Musharraf purged the Supreme Court just as it was poised to declare his recent re-election illegal and briefly suspended the constitution.

Musharraf, a top U.S. ally in its war on terrorism, led a military coup to seize power in 1999, but retired from the army before being inaugurated for a new five-year term as civilian president in November.

Despite his imposition of a state of emergency and the arrests of thousands of opposition party activists, lawyers and judges, Washington has continued to praise Musharraf, saying he is committed to restoring democracy through the parliamentary elections.

A series of bloody suicide bombings by al-Qaida and Taliban militants have further dented his popularity, and most analysts now predict opposition parties will make major gains in the Feb. 18 elections, possibly enough to force him from power.

The generals' statement came just before Musharraf met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Switzerland — the highest-level, face-to-face U.S. contact with the Pakistani leader since last month's assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Musharraf, told The Associated Press the meeting with Condoleezza Rice "went very well."

There was "total consonance and unanimity of views" on joint efforts to fight terrorism and a feeling that the sharing of intelligence between the two countries was "excellent," he said.

During his European tour, Musharraf has sought to reassure Western leaders about his ability to restore democracy and prevail in the escalating combat between government troops and pro-Taliban rebels along Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan.

Analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi said the timing of the former officers' statement highlighted the erosion of Musharraf's support.

"It's difficult to say that this is a reflection of feelings within the active military (although) this statement will be read with a lot of interest among the serving people who cannot express their opinion due to service discipline.

"It shows that support for Musharraf is declining among the circles which supported him in the past. This is why it's important, they would not have done this a year ago," said Rizvi, who is teaching a course at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C.

The meeting of the Ex-Servicemen's Society brought together retired commanders of all political stripes. It included hard-liners such as Javed Ashraf Qazi, the former head of Pakistan's feared Inter-Services Intelligence, and liberal reformists such as Air Marshals Asghar Khan and Nur Khan.

Although some of its members are outspoken critics of Musharraf, most have not come out publicly against him.

Both of Pakistan's main opposition parties have called on Musharraf to step down.

His successor as army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is believed to remain loyal to the president. The continued support of the military — which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60 years as an independent nation — is essential for Musharraf to remain in power.