Musharraf resigns as army chief
LAHORE, Pakistan: President Pervez Musharraf resigned his military post as Chief of Army Staff Wednesday, handing over the command stick to his successor in a ceremony at army headquarters and ending his eight years of military rule. He remains president and will be sworn in to a new five-year term in the capital on Thursday, but as a civilian president his power will be diminished.
General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, 55, the vice chief of army staff, becomes the Chief of Army Staff, replacing Musharraf. Kayani — the former head of the InterServices Intelligence and a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas — has played a prominent role in cooperating with the United States in the fight against terrorism in Pakistan and is expected to continue that policy.
Musharraf had come under growing pressure internationally and from his own disenchanted public to relinquish his military post, and his grip on political power will be significantly loosened without the uniform. While the military remains loyal to him, Kayani is understood to want to remove the army from the forefront of politics and concentrate on military concerns.
Musharraf, who imposed emergency rule on the country on Nov. 3, imprisoning political opponents, lawyers and judges and closing down television stations, will continue to chair the national security council as a civilian president and has given himself added powers under recent amendments.
After 46 years in the army, Musharraf admitted it was wrenching to give up his military role. "I am sad to leave the army which has been like a family to me," he said in an emotional speech before Pakistani government and military officials and their wives gathered on a parade ground in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, south of the capital. "Although I am taking off the uniform the army will always be in heart."
He praised the army for coming forward for the nation in years of hardship and national calamities and commended Kayani as an excellent commander who he had known for 20 years.
Pakistan's top officials said on Monday that after giving up his uniform Musharraf would be sworn in as a civilian president in Islamabad on Thursday. That would be a belated, though significant, concession to both his political opposition here and supporters in the Bush administration who have demanded it as an important step toward restoring civilian rule.
Musharraf conducted what the Pakistani military said was a round of farewell calls to the country's armed forces on Tuesday.
He visited the Joint Chief of Staff headquarters, where he was received by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Tariq Majeed, the military said in a statement. Later, he visited the naval headquarters and the air headquarters.
However, Musharraf's opponents have made clear that giving up his military role may not be enough to appease his critics.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has returned to Pakistan after an eight-year absence to make a challenge in parliamentary elections scheduled for January, condemned Musharraf for imposing emergency rule.
Sharif said he would not serve as prime minister under a Musharraf presidency, demanded an end to the state of emergency and called for the reinstatement of fired Supreme Court justices.
Sharif was tossed out of power by Musharraf in a 1999 coup. Such a forceful stand contrasts in many respects to Sharif's own time as prime minister. He is best remembered here and in Washington as the leader who brought the world a nuclear Pakistan, flirted with war with India and forged strong ties with religious conservatives. His tenure was marred by charges of rampant corruption and by confrontations with the courts and the media as well.
Sharif's return to Pakistan now is likely to stir deep unease in the Bush administration, which has stood with Musharraf as its best bet in the fight against terrorism, said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who until recently dealt with Pakistan issues at the State Department.
Nonetheless, Washington appears to have taken a back seat, or at least a stance of resignation at the inevitable, as the Saudis, perhaps Pakistan's most revered ally, engineered the return of Sharif, Markey said.
Not least, Sharif's return complicates the Bush administration's support for Benazir Bhutto, another former prime minister and opposition leader, whom Washington has favored as a more secular politician, and a more certain partner against Islamic extremists.
Officials in Washington and London promoted her return from exile in October as a way to put a friendlier face on Musharraf's increasingly unpopular military regime.
While Bhutto and Sharif are known to detest the general, they detest each other as well. Whether they can form a cohesive opposition against Musharraf before parliamentary elections set for Jan. 8 is far from clear.
While Sharif said he would not take part in the elections unless the emergency rule was lifted, he went ahead to meet the Monday deadline for filing nominating papers for the election.