Pakistan's Musharraf Retires as Head of Army

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Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf resigns his post as chief of the army, a day before he was due to be sworn as a civilian president. The former general's retirement from the military has been a key demand of the country's political opposition. By giving up his uniform, he risks being overthrown.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

People waited a long time for the ceremony that took place outside Pakistan's army headquarters today.

(Soundbite of ceremony)

INSKEEP: General Pervez Musharraf gave up his job as head of the army. He is keeping his other job as president who came to power in a coup and who starts a new term tomorrow. Musharraf gave up his military job after months of protests against his rule. And NPR's Jackie Northam is tracking the story from the capital city, Islamabad.

And Jackie, first I have to ask you if Musharraf really gave up anything.

JACKIE NORTHAM: He certainly did, Steve. He has given up an enormous amount of power and influence. The army chief of staff of Pakistan is the most powerful position in the country. He is going to be sworn in tomorrow for another five-year term in office as a civilian president, so he will still have some say in how things are run in the country.

But the problem with that is this is actually - by giving up his uniform, he also runs a risk of being overthrown. The Pakistan military has never launched a coup against an army chief of staff; it has launched coups against civilian leaders of the country. That's how Musharraf gained presidency in the first place.

So there's a lot of anger here against Musharraf for things that have happened recently - the state of emergency, the jailing of judges, altering the Constitution. And it seems that, you know, if that anger continues, then there is every chance that he could be overthrown by the military.

INSKEEP: Does he get to name the next head of the army?

NORTHAM: He handpicked the next head of the army, General Ashfaq Kiyani. Kiyani is a 55-year-old general. He spent more than three and a half decades in the military, and people seem to like him here; they think it's a good choice.

However, Kiyani does have a mixed record. He headed up the ISI, which is the intelligence service here in Pakistan. It's akin to the CIA in the U.S. And after 9/11 the ISI under Kiyani's watch started rounding up hundreds of people with suspected links to terrorism, and they simply disappeared.

Kiyani is pro-American, though, and he has received military training in the U.S. at Fort Leavenworth. And most importantly for the U.S. is that he's onboard with this fight against terrorism, as is Musharraf. And that's important, Steve, considering Pakistan sits next to Afghanistan, its pro-Taliban militants throughout the region. And Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country.

INSKEEP: So if you're Pervez Musharraf and trying to survive in power as a civilian president, do you now have to worry about the military more than you have to worry about opposition politicians, former prime ministers, protesters, and other people that he's had to deal with in the past year?

NORTHAM: Yes, I think that would be a fair assessment, because again, the military does have the option; it does have the availability to overthrow civilian heads of government.

As far as the opposition parties are concerned, Musharraf can work around that. They are disorganized; it's unclear whether they are even going to run in the upcoming elections at this point. So certainly overall Musharraf's biggest concern - if, again, this anger against him continues - his biggest concern would be the military.

INSKEEP: The military must still look upon him as their guy though.

NORTHAM: Yes, but I think it's probably short memories as well. Again, you know, the military here is a highly respected institution, and there's many people that feel that Musharraf has somehow tainted that reputation just by the things that he's done over the past month or so. And so, you know, while he was their guy, certainly if it does anything to hurt the military, you know, his life in politics might be very short.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam is in Islamabad, Pakistan. Thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

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Musharraf Gives Up Pakistan's Top Army Post

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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives command of the army to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. i

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (left) presents the change of command baton to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani during a ceremony in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Wednesday. Musharraf stepped down as army chief after bowing to international demands to end eight years of military rule. Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives command of the army to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (left) presents the change of command baton to Gen. Ashfaq Kayani during a ceremony in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Wednesday. Musharraf stepped down as army chief after bowing to international demands to end eight years of military rule.

Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty

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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