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Pakistan military will 'preserve dignity' despite ex-chief's trial

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s military will protect its dignity ‘at all costs’, the army chief said on Monday in an apparent show of irritation over the treason trial of former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan's newly appointed army chief General Raheel Sharif attends the change of command ceremony in with outgoing army chief General Ashfaq Kayani (not in picture) at army headquarters in Rawalpindi November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Such talk from the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, the most powerful figure in Pakistan, is likely to raise concern about political intervention by the army, which would set back hopes for the development of democracy and civilian rule.

Last month, a Pakistani court indicted Musharraf on five counts of treason over his suspension of the constitution and imposition of emergency rule in 2007, when he was trying to extend his rule.

Musharraf, who first seized power as army chief in a 1999 coup and later became president as well, faces the death penalty if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

The case again Musharraf highlights the competition for influence between Pakistan’s three power centres: an increasingly assertive judiciary, the fledgling civilian government and the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 67-year-history.

Musharraf’s indictment has broken an unwritten rule that the top ranks of the military are untouchable.

“The Pakistan army looks at all institutions with respect,” Sharif said on a visit to a military base in response to questions from soldiers about recent criticism of the army, including, a military source said, one about the trial.

“But it will also preserve its own dignity and institutional pride at all costs.”

Sharif, speaking at a base in Tarbela, about 70 km (44 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad, did not elaborate.

Musharraf was forced to step down as president in 2008 after street protests spearheaded by the judiciary and an election in which his political supporters fared poorly against a pro-democracy party.

He returned to Pakistan in March 2013 after nearly four years of self-imposed exile to contest a general election in May that year but was disqualified because of court cases pending against him.

Since then, he has faced a series of charges including murder in connection with the assassination in 2007 of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Musharraf has denied all the charges and dismissed them as politically motivated.

He is living under house arrest in his farmhouse on the outskirts of the capital.

Reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Robert Birsel