ISLAMABAD - In a rare challenge to Pakistan's powerful generals, the country's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the military should stop interfering in politics.
In connection with a case dating back to 1996 in which a retired air marshal filed a petition against the army for sponsoring a political alliance, Chief Supreme Court Judge Iftikhar Chaudhry said military intelligence agencies must stay away from politics.
"Such organisations have no role to play in the political activities/politics, for formulation or destablisation of political governments," he said in the ruling.
"Nor can they facilitate or show favour to a political party or group of political parties or politicians individually in any manner which may lead to his or her success."
It is not clear whether the decision would reduce the military's vast power.
But the move could create tensions between the increasingly assertive Supreme Court and the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 65-year history through coups or from behind the scenes.
The long-running showdown between the judiciary and the US-backed government has fuelled instability in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country with a fragile economy that has been battered by a Taliban insurgency.
In the late 1980s, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was accused of establishing a political cell that worked with the presidency to distribute money to hand-picked politicians in a bid to get them elected.
"Any Election Cell/Political Cell in Presidency or ISI or MI (Military Intelligence) or within their formations shall be abolished immediately," said the Supreme Court ruling.