- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) A group of retired Pakistani generals and admirals is stepping up its unprecedented campaign against President Pervez Musharraf, even joining a public protest to demand that the former military chief resign.

The government has played down the actions of retired military officers since last month, when the Ex-Servicemen’s Society called on Mr. Musharraf to relinquish the presidency, citing “the supreme national interest.”

Some dissident officers, including former army chief Mirza Aslam Beg, staged a brief public rally Tuesday in Rawalpindi, demanding Mr. Musharraf’s resignation.

Some analysts and Western diplomats think the former generals, admirals and air marshals retain strong ties to their successors on active duty.

Although the military leadership remains loyal to Mr. Musharraf, the protests by retired servicemen point to deep fissures within the armed forces, which have supported Mr. Musharraf since he seized power in a military coup in 1999.

“Even for those who are aware that opposition to Musharraf was increasing within the rank and file, the degree of vehemence, even venom, of opposition was a revelation,” Shaukat Qadir, of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, wrote in the Daily Times newspaper.

Authorities are not reluctant to crack down on Mr. Musharraf’s civilian critics, but heavy-handed action against distinguished former soldiers could incite a backlash among the military ranks, even among those who have not broken with the president.

“Can you imagine what will happen if the police attack and beat Pakistan’s greatest national heroes who saved the nation?” said retired army Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, a former head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and a member of the society.

In addition to Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, the retired service members are demanding the reinstatement of 60 judges, including the Supreme Court’s chief justice, as a guarantee that the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections will be free and fair.

Riot police have broken up past protests.

Pakistan has been ruled by the army for more than half of its 60-year history, and some of Mr. Musharraf’s critics from the ranks of retired army officers were linked to military regimes when they were on active duty.

Some Pakistanis accuse them of standing up for democracy only after leaving military service and enjoying the prestige and financial benefits of an armed-forces career. Most retired senior officers are wealthy.

Musharraf spokesman Rashid Qureshi dismissed the retired officers Wednesday as “insignificant” and “spent cartridges.”

The most public critics of Mr. Musharraf within the Ex-Servicemen’s Society come from the air force and navy — services not tainted by association with military rule.

The most prominent former army general in the group is Mr. Beg, the former military chief who served during the turbulent transition to democracy after the death of military dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq in a 1988 plane crash.

Regardless of their backgrounds and motives, the former top officers appear united in their conviction that Mr. Musharraf’s rule has tarnished the reputation of the armed forces as a whole and brought into question the unity of the Pakistani state.

“He must go, the sooner the better … to rescue the nation from the escalating political turmoil,” said former air force chief Asghar Khan.

Mr. Musharraf’s popularity has suffered over the past year as Pakistani troops sought to seal the border with Afghanistan to prevent terrorists from using the lawless area as a staging ground. Hundreds have died in the fighting.

“He is fighting America’s war, but the majority of the people are now anti-American,” retired Vice Adm. Ahmad Tasnim said of Mr. Musharraf. “Everybody is asking, ‘Why should our own soldiers kill our own people?’ ”

Mr. Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, suspending the constitution and arresting most top judges, including the Supreme Court’s chief justice.

He retired as head of the armed forces on Nov. 28, a day before he was inaugurated as a civilian president for a new term.

Pakistan’s opposition parties have welcomed the criticism from the former officers.

At a press conference last month, the retired officers joined opposition politicians in calling for the restoration of an independent judiciary and for free and fair elections.

“This is understandable. . . . People of all ranks are genuinely worried by what will happen to the country and what will happen to them,” said retired Gen. Ahmed R. Malik.

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