Musharraf to Step Down as Military Leader After Election

A lawyer for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has said Mr. Musharraf plans to give up his post as chief of the military if he wins forthcoming presidential elections. The statement was made to Pakistan's Supreme Court as it was holding hearings on petitions challenging the right of Mr. Musharraf to run for president. Daniel Schearf reports from Islamabad.

Government attorney Sharifuddin Pirzada told Pakistan's Supreme Court Tuesday that, "If elected for a second term as president, General Pervez Musharraf shall relinquish charge of the office of chief of army staff soon after elections and before taking the oath of president for the second term."

The lawyer, a close aide to Mr. Musharraf, spoke as opposition party petitions are being heard in the Supreme Court calling for Mr. Musharraf to be disqualified as a candidate in the next presidential election.

Ahsan Iqbal is spokesman for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, an opposition political party. He says Mr. Musharraf has placed himself above the rule of law and should not be allowed to run for president.

"Pakistan is at a very defining moment," Iqbal noted. "Pakistan and people of Pakistan feel that this hybrid of dictatorship and democracy has hurt Pakistan enough and now it is time for Pakistan to move forward with pure and undiluted democracy, rule of law and supremacy of constitution."

Mr. Musharraf, who took over Pakistan in a 1999 military coup, is under pressure to return Pakistan to democratic rule. His current term as president ends on November 15.

Some opposition party members are threatening to resign from their positions in the parliament if he is allowed to run for president.

Mr. Musharraf appears to be trying to allay concerns that he could stay as both chief of the army and president of the country. However, this weekend he approved a change in election rules that would allow him to retain both positions, placing doubts on his intentions.

Mr. Musharraf attempted to remove the chief justice earlier this year but was forced to back down after massive street protests.

Last week he removed a political competitor by deporting former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, in violation of a Supreme Court ruling.

If Mr. Musharraf gives up his military post it could pave the way for a power-sharing arrangement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf have been trying to broker a deal for months that would eliminate long-standing corruption charges against her and allow her to run for a third term as prime minister in return for her supporting his continuing as president. One of her key demands was that Mr. Musharraf must step down as Army leader.