THERE are definite signs that the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, is losing the important backing of the military after an influential group of retired officers called on him to step down.
With crucial national elections just weeks away, the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen’s Society, which includes former air marshals, admirals, generals and security agency chiefs, issued a statement demanding that Mr Musharraf step aside to pave the way for the restoration of democracy.
“General Pervez Musharraf … does not represent the unity and the symbol of the federation as president,” a statement issued by the society on Wednesday said.
It said that the group had been monitoring recent events “with great concern and anguish” and that Mr Musharraf’s resignation was “in the supreme national interest”.
The society welcomed a recent order by Mr Musharraf’s hand-picked army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, that serving army officers stay out of politics before the election on February 18.
“The army would be very happy to get rid of [Musharraf],” said one political analyst, Talat Massood, a former general.
Mr Musharraf, who is on a tour of European countries, used a speech in Paris on Wednesday to accuse the Western media of distorting the situation in Pakistan, including its record on democracy, human rights and the fight against terrorism.
Few predict Mr Musharraf’s immediate demise, but Pakistani analysts and some US officials say that he faces greater political challenges and has fewer allies at home and abroad.
A senior US congressional official who recently visited Pakistan said the military was ready for Mr Musharraf to step down but does not want to have to remove him, preferring instead to wait until he recognises the need to exit.
His slide on the domestic front comes as US intelligence officials have reported to Washington for the first time that the Pakistani leader may be beyond political rescue or long-term relevance.
If the opposition gains two-thirds of the parliamentary seats in the elections, the President faces the possibility of impeachment. And even if he can assemble a coalition government, analysts said, he is likely to struggle politically as Pakistan confronts economic problems and a growing Islamic extremist movement.
The Bush Administration continues to support Mr Musharraf as a key ally against terrorism. The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, met Mr Musharraf yesterday on the outskirts of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in the highest-level contact since he declared emergency rule last November.
■ Pakistani police said they had defused a roadside time bomb just minutes before the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was due to pass by in the north-western city of Peshawar yesterday.
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