In a rare coming together of diverse opinion, President Pervez Musharraf has been urged to shed the army chief's post to help the depoliticisation of Pakistan's armed forces.
"Besides being a constitutional office, the office of president is also a political office. Combining the presidency with the office of chief of army staff politicises the latter post as well as the army," reads a letter signed by 18 personalities, The Nation said.
The group includes MPs, including one from the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid), former MPs, former ministers, former governors, two former chiefs of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, two academics and an editor.
The Nation identified them as Senator SM Zafar, former interior minister Lt Gen (retired) Moinuddin Haider, former Balochistan governor Lt Gen (retired) Abdul Qadir, Lt Gen (retired) Asad Durrani, former federal minister and filmmaker Javed Jabbar, former foreign minister Sartaj Aziz, Lt Gen (retired) Hameed Gul and Parvez Hassan.
The newspaper noted that this was "probably the first time in the country's history" that a group of such diversity had agreed on the need to pursue a peaceful and orderly disengagement of the military from the political process.
A notable feature is the fact that they include civil and military officers who served in the governments established after Musharraf became the army chief in 1998.
The signatories, however, have expressed no opinion about Musharraf seeking a second term to the presidency, a controversial issue with political parties and legal experts.
With the talk of parliamentary elections in the air, they also sought "genuine empowerment" of the election commission, a demand being voiced by the opposition in the face of Musharraf's promise of "transparency" in political processes.
Democracy, they said, could only be authentic when there is real separation of powers and when all the institutions of the state abide by the roles assigned to them by the constitution.
"The elections scheduled for 2007 will not be credible without neutral and impartial caretaker governments, both at the centre and in the provinces," they said in their open letter to Musharraf, copies of which were also sent to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and heads of political parties.