Musharraf defends role as army chief
This came after the Commonwealth's secretary general said that the Pakistani leader should resign as army chief by next year.india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 16:18 IST
Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf defended his dual role as a political leader and army chief on Saturday, saying his military position has not been "a hurdle" in his country's democracy, an official said.
Musharraf made the comment one day after the Commonwealth's secretary-general, Rob McKinnon, said the Pakistani leader -- who seized power in a 1999 coup -- should resign as army chief by next year.
The Pakistani leader met with McKinnon on Saturday and argued that his uniform was not a "hurdle in the working of democratic institutions," a presidential office official said on condition of anonymity.
Musharraf added that he would decide whether he would leave his army post by 2007 when his presidential term expires, the official said.
The president also insisted that his military role has not diminished the freedoms of the media or opposition parties, the official said.
Musharraf's dual titles have been a sore point with the Commonwealth -- a 53-member grouping of former British colonies.
After the bloodless coup, the Commonwealth responded by suspending Pakistan from the group's decision-making councils.
But the Islamic nation was readmitted to full membership in May 2004 after the Commonwealth acknowledged Musharraf's democratic reforms.
Last year, the Commonwealth criticised Musharraf when he reneged on a pledge to relinquish his military role by the end of December 2004, saying he was keeping the dual roles in the interest of stability and continuity.
He has also said Pakistan needs the military's firm guiding hand to build a democratic state and fight terrorism.
After arriving on Friday for a three-day visit, McKinnon said in a speech in the southern city of Karachi that the Commonwealth still wanted Musharraf to relinquish his military uniform. Being a "head of state and chief of army staff is incompatible with the basic principles of democracy," he said.
On Saturday, the presidential official also said Musharraf and McKinnon discussed the Prophet Muhammad cartoons that have sparked violent protests across Pakistan and other Muslim nations.
McKinnon on Friday criticised media, mostly in Europe, that have printed the cartoons in the name of free speech.
McKinnon said the freedom of speech "has to be exercised with responsibility and restraint" while respecting people's religious and cultural sensitivities.
He added: "Although we share a common humanity, efforts are being made constantly by those with sinister interests to divide people, by appealing to primordial instincts which fragment humanity."