Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf warned that the country is at risk of a new coup, as he prepared to launch his own audacious bid for a comeback as a civilian president.
The retired general also said the army should be given a constitutional role in the turbulent politics of the nuclear-armed nation, where the government is struggling to tackle rampant militancy and a crumbling economy.
Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and stood down in 2008, said current army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani could be forced to intervene against the unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.
Following a reported crisis meeting this week between Kayani, Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Musharraf was asked at a debating forum in London on Wednesday night whether he thought a new putsch was likely.
"Well, you see the photographs of the meeting with the president and the prime minister and I can assure you they were not discussing the weather," he replied to debate host Christopher Meyer, ex-British ambassador to the United States.
"There was a serious discussion of some kind or other and certainly at this moment all kinds of pressures must be on this army chief," added Musharraf, who hand-picked Kayani as his successor in the post in 2007.
The 67-year-old former president, now living in self-imposed exile in London, said similar "pressures" in his first year as army chief had led him to launch the coup against then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
"In that one year Pakistan was going down and a number of people, including politicians, women, men came to me telling me 'Why are you not acting? Are you going to act for Pakistan's good?'" Musharraf told the Intelligence Squared debating forum.
Musharraf said the solution was to give the army a constitutional role in governing the nation of 167 million people, which has spent more than half its existence since independence from Britain in 1947 under military rule.
"The situation in Pakistan can only be solved when the military has some role," he said. "If you want stability, checks and balances in the democratic structure of Pakistan, the military ought to have some sort of role."
Army chief Kayani has previously been praised for keeping the military out of politics and focusing on the battle against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Musharraf reiterated that he would launch a new political party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, in London on Friday to contest the next elections in 2013 as a civilian, though his opponents have scoffed at the move.
He quit as president in August 2008 after a new government led by the party of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto threatened to impeach him. He was replaced by Zardari, the widower of Bhutto.
Musharraf refused to say when he would return to Pakistan, where he could face treason charges and where he admitted that his own life could be at risk from Islamists, who twice tried to kill him when he was in power.
He insisted that he would go back eventually, saying: "When I see what is happening in Pakistan I think there is a bigger cause, and when there is a bigger cause you have to take risks."
The former leader accused Zardari's government of failing adequately to deal with Pakistan's moribund economy, the threat from Taliban militants and the after effects of devastating floods earlier this year.
But he condemned a recent surge in US drone strikes in Pakistan border areas which was reportedly aimed at eliminating the leaders of an Al-Qaeda plot to launch Mumbai-style militant attacks in Britain, France and Germany.
"Within Pakistan there is sensitivity of the people of Pakistan. We have got forces to deal with any situation and if action needs to be taken the West should realise that they should equip the Pakistan army or air force," he said.