Musharraf Gives Up Pakistan's Top Army Post
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf resigned his post as military commander Wednesday, fulfilling a key opposition demand a day before he is to be sworn in for a new term as a civilian president.
Musharraf was emotional as he handed over the ceremonial baton Wednesday to successor Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who is widely expected to maintain the army's pro-Western policies.
"I'm proud of this army, and I was lucky to have commanded the world's best army," Musharraf said. "I will no longer command, but my heart and my mind will always be with you."
Hundreds of senior officers, politicians and civilians watched from the stands as an unsmiling Musharraf – wearing a phalanx of medals and a green sash across his uniform – reviewed the ranks to the strains of "Auld Lang Syne."
End of Military Rule
"(You) are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in his final speech to the troops, sniffing repeatedly and appearing to blink back tears.
Since seizing power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf has served as president while retaining his post as head of the armed forces. Musharraf insists that his continued rule as president is vital if Pakistan is to remain stable as it returns to democracy.
Key opposition leader Benazir Bhutto welcomed the belated step, but she said her party had yet to accept him as head of state.
Britain, which shares the United States' deep concern about Islamic terrorism emanating from Pakistan, said Musharraf's move was an important part of his plan to restore constitutional order.
"We understand the threat to Pakistan's peace and security, but I have urged President Musharraf to use the normal democratic process to respond," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Rivals Threaten Boycott
But he will have to jostle for power with former prime ministers Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have just returned from exile and want to return to office.
Both are threatening to boycott January parliamentary elections, though they also have registered as candidates and say they will shun the elections only if the entire opposition unites behind that step.
Musharraf had promised to give up his army role at the end of 2004. But he reneged on that pledge, saying the country still needed strong leadership in the face of Islamic extremism.
He has given it up now, in line with the constitution, only after securing a fresh term as president.
Musharraf was re-elected by Parliament in October, but the Supreme Court held up his confirmation following complaints that a military man could not constitutionally serve as an elected head of state.
He reacted by proclaiming a state of emergency on Nov. 3, firing the chief justice and other independent judges and replacing them with his appointees. The court then approved his election.
Officials have indicated that the emergency could be lifted soon after Musharraf takes the presidential oath, but have not set a firm date.
Sharif, who arrived from Saudi Arabia on Sunday, has taken a hard line against Musharraf, who ousted him in the 1999 coup.
A conservative in good relations with Pakistan's religious parties, Sharif is reaching out to the many Pakistanis who oppose Musharraf's close alliance with the United States.
Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule also has strained relations with Bhutto, who shares his secularist, pro-Western views. Bhutto, who has twice been put under house arrest to stop her from leading protests, has joined Sharif in denouncing Musharraf as backsliding on democracy.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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