- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber killed the Pakistan army’s surgeon general yesterday in the highest-level assassination since President Pervez Musharraf joined the U.S. war against terror.

The strike is a reminder of the extremist threat as Mr. Musharraf resists pressure to quit from opponents who swept last week’s parliamentary election.

A presidential spokesman yesterday dismissed suggestions from three U.S. senators that the embattled Pakistani leader might make a dignified retreat from power.

Mr. Musharraf was elected to a new five-year presidential term last year by Pakistani lawmakers, not by any senator from the United States, spokesman Rashid Qureshi told Dawn News television. So I don’t think he needs to respond to anything that is said by these people.

The lone suicide bomber targeted Lt. Gen. Mushtaq Baig’s black Toyota sedan when it stopped at a red light on a busy road in Rawalpindi, a city just south of the capital, officials and witnesses said.

Gen. Baig, the army’s top medical officer, died along with his driver and guard, the army said. It was reported that five civilians also were killed.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Gen. Baig was the most-senior army officer killed in an attack since Pakistan sided with Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

Suicide bombers have struck repeatedly in recent months in Rawalpindi, where the army has its headquarters, mostly targeting security forces. A gun and suicide bomb attack also killed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as she left a campaign rally in the city Dec. 27.

Mrs. Bhutto’s party finished first in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections and is attempting to form a government.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, who met Mr. Musharraf after observing the election, said yesterday he will advise the president to seek a dignified way to leave office.

Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska also endorsed a negotiated Musharraf departure.

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