Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has called for a larger political role for Pakistan's army, and suggested that he will soon make his own bid to rejoin the country's politics.
Speaking on September 29 at the Intelligence Squared debating forum in London, Musharraf said the situation in the nuclear-armed Islamic republic can only be resolved if the military participates in the country’s governance.
"I have always believed that in Pakistan's environment, if we want stability, if we want checks and balances in the democratic structure of Pakistan, in the democratic functioning of government in Pakistan, the military ought to have some kind of a role," Musharraf said.
The 67-year-old retired general suggested that, without an increased role, the military could be forced to intervene against the government, which he said had failed adequately to deal with Pakistan’s Islamist militancy, the crumbling economy, and this year’s devastating floods:
"This is the situation in Pakistan," he said. "It can only be solved when the military has some role -- not at all in elections, not at all a decisive role, but a role where they can voice their concerns, an institutionalized arrangement where they can influence thinking, or at least debate and discuss what they are thinking. In the absences of that, then the [military] chief is left alone to take some decisions."
He added that in times of adversity, Pakistanis look not to government, but to the military.
The former president also touched on a reported crisis meeting this week between army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, President Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, saying: "I can assure you they were not discussing the weather."
He added that "certainly at this moment all kinds of pressures must be on this army chief."
Musharraf said similar "pressures" when he was head of the military had led him to launch a coup in 1999 against the then government.
The former leader suffered a dramatic loss of popularity in 2007 after firing the chief justice and calling a subsequent state of emergency that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. He was brought down in 2008 after months of protests and a crushing election defeat for his supporters in parliamentary polls.
Musharraf's latest comments come amid an intensifying struggle between state institutions in Pakistan, which have fed rumors that the military is gearing up to engineer an alternative to the elected government.
The civilian government has been weakened by the military's control over foreign and security policies. The judiciary has attempted to undermine President Zardari's authority, including by reviving corruption charges against him.
Pakistani Senator Afrasiab Khattak told RFE/RL recently that the confrontation is the result of the government's lack of control over state institutions. He said the military has the ability to be the decisive voice by putting its weight behind one institution or the other.
Marie Lall, a South Asia specialist at the University of London and at the think tank Chatham House, tells RFE/RL that a combination of factors makes a coup "highly unlikely" unless things change drastically on the ground and there is a total breakdown of law and order situation.
"At this particular moment, we also have to remember that the army is very thinly stretched. It's got a war going on in the West, it's got security issues in Kashmir in the East, and it's got lot of the actual relief work to be done for the floods, which has fallen on its back," Lall says. "It's also led by General Kayani, who is a general who has clearly stated that he has no interest in taking the army into politics."
Musharraf, who has lived in London since stepping down, confirmed on September 29 that he would launch a new political party to contest general elections in 2013.
Some analysts express doubt about the former military ruler's ability to regain popularity in Pakistan, where they say he has powerful political enemies.
But Lall says she thinks the party has a place in Pakistan, and Musharraf has "good chances" of rejoining politics.
"I think he represents a certain voice of the middle classes which feel unhappy with the current leadership or Zardari, but who also would not want to see a direct army rule but would like to see -- as Musharraf has said -- a larger role for the army as an institution in Pakistani politics in a sort of constitutional way," Lall says. "And that's I believe something his party might be pushing for."
Musharraf said he will announce the political platform of the All Pakistan Muslim League in London on October 1.
But he did not to say when he would return to his country, where he could be greeted by legal challenges.
with additional wire reports