Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will stay on as army chief if he is not re-elected, a government lawyer said Tuesday, as the Supreme Court prepared for a ruling that could decide the fate of his bid for another presidential term.
Musharraf, a close U.S. ally who seized power in a 1999 coup, has pledged to step down as military chief and restore civilian rule if lawmakers give him another five-year mandate in a ballot Oct. 6.
At a Supreme Court hearing Tuesday, a judge asked Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum what would happen if Musharraf was not re-elected.
Qayyum said Musharraf's position was that "If I am not elected, then I will remain chief of army staff."
He said Musharraf could continue as army chief under a law that allows him to hold both positions at the same time and suggested he could retain the powerful military post as long as he remains president.
The law expires at the end of 2007 although his presidential term ends Nov. 15. Parliamentary elections are to follow by January.
The remarks could sharpen criticism of Musharraf's re-election plan and a crackdown on opposition parties that argue that he is ineligible to run, particularly while he remains army chief.
They also could fuel persistent talk - encouraged by hard-liners in Musharraf's camp - that the general could impose a state of emergency or impose martial law if the court blocks his way.
Musharraf has seen his popularity and power erode since his botched effort to fire the Supreme Court's chief justice earlier this year. His administration is also struggling to contain a surge in Islamic militancy.
The nine-judge panel was considering several challenges to Musharraf's re-election bid after rejecting some Monday, mostly on technical grounds. A decision was expected within days.
Security was tight for the second consecutive day near the court, with a ban on gatherings of more than five people and police checkpoints set up on roads leading into the capital.
Police began arresting leaders and rank-and-file members of opposition parties in late-night raids on Saturday.
The move drew a sharp rebuke from the United States - Musharraf's biggest foreign backer because of his support of Washington's global war on terrorism - and from the European Union.
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18