A Pakistani court on Tuesday banned former military ruler Pervez Musharraf from running for public office for the rest of his life, the latest blow since he returned from exile last month to make a political comeback.
The ban came as Pakistan's powerful army chief pledged in a rare speech that the military would do everything in its power to ensure the parliamentary election is held as scheduled on May 11, despite the Taliban's attempt to disrupt the vote by attacking candidates.
One of Musharraf's lawyers, Saad Shibli, said he would go to the Supreme Court to challenge the ruling against his client, claiming the former leader should not be singled out for punishment for his actions while in power since others were involved.
"About 500 officials at different levels and institutions were part of Musharraf's actions, and if those actions come under scrutiny, all those people should be involved in this matter," Shibli said.
Judges had previously barred Musharraf from running in the parliamentary election scheduled for May 11. The Peshawar High Court handed down the lifetime ban Tuesday after hearing an appeal by Musharraf's lawyer to allow him to run in the upcoming election.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after four years in self-imposed exile, but his fortunes have gone from bad to worse since he arrived. He is currently under house arrest in connection with a pair of court cases against him.
One involves his decision to fire senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, while in power. The other relates to the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Government prosecutors have accused Musharraf of being involved — allegations he has denied.
Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 when he was serving as army chief and ruled for nearly a decade. He stepped down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule.
He returned to Pakistan despite Taliban death threats, but was met by only a few thousand people when his plane landed in the southern port city of Karachi. Analysts said the response showed how little public support he enjoyed in the country.
The run-up to next month's parliamentary election has been marred by violence, much of it carried out by the Pakistani Taliban.
On Tuesday, gunmen killed a politician running for a provincial assembly seat in southwestern Baluchistan province in an attack that seemed to be the result of a political rivalry, said local government official Saeed Ahmad.
The Taliban have killed at least 60 people in attacks on candidates and party workers since the beginning of April. Many have targeted secular parties, raising concerns the violence could benefit hard-line Islamic politicians and others who take a softer line toward the militants.
The military plans to deploy troops on election day to provide security. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said Tuesday that the soldiers will do everything they can to limit disruptions.
"I assure you, that we stand committed to wholeheartedly assist and support in the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections to the best of our capabilities and remaining within the confines of the constitution," Kayani said in a televised speech in Urdu marking the day dedicated to fallen soldiers. "This indeed is a golden opportunity, which can usher in an era of true democratic values in the country."
The election marks the first transfer between democratically elected governments in a country that has experienced three military coups since it was founded in 1947.
Kayani insisted that the fight against the Pakistani Taliban was vital for the security of the country, hitting back at critics who have claimed the state is fighting Islamic militants only at the behest of the United States.
"There is no room for doubts when it comes to dealing with rebellion against the state," Kayani said.
The Pakistani Taliban have been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years, killing thousands of security personnel and civilians. They seek to impose Islamic law and break the alliance with the United States.
"We sincerely desire that all those who have strayed and have picked up arms against the nation return to the national fold," Kayani said. "However, this is only possible once they unconditionally submit to the state, its constitution and the rule of law."
Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot and Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this report.