Musharraf to Take Oath as Civilian Leader
Thursday, November 29, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 28 -- President Pervez Musharraf, after formally stepping down as the chief of Pakistan's powerful army, prepared to announce on Thursday a timetable for lifting emergency rule and to take the oath as a civilian president, officials here said.
The change of command Wednesday, which ended Musharraf's eight-year reign as a military ruler and his 46-year career in the army, came as Pakistani troops reported important gains against radical Islamic insurgents in the far north's Swat Valley. The military said that 220 militants were killed and that troops seized key ground.
Millions of Pakistanis strongly welcomed the news that Musharraf, 64, who had clung to power for the past month by ousting most Supreme Court justices and suspending the constitution, had fulfilled his pledge to retire as the country's top general. At an elaborate military ceremony inside army headquarters, he handed his symbolic bamboo baton to Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, 55, who succeeds him as army chief.
In Washington, President Bush said Musharraf had promised to remove his uniform and had "kept his word." But he also said that Musharraf needed to lift emergency rule to "get Pakistan back on the road to democracy." The Bush administration has long defended Musharraf as an important ally in the war in Afghanistan but stepped up criticism after he cracked down on the judiciary and the media in recent weeks.
Pakistani officials said Musharraf would address the nation after taking his oath and would almost certainly announce that he would end emergency rule before Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. They also said the government would release the remaining political activists, journalists and lawyers detained during protests this past month.
Both of Musharraf's top civilian rivals, former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, recently returned from exile and are now likely to run for Parliament, although Sharif has not ruled out boycotting the elections if he deems political conditions to be inadequate.
Musharraf's shift from military to civilian rule of this nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million, a move he made reluctantly under international pressure, lessens but does not resolve the political tensions that have engulfed Pakistan. It is not clear how much political influence he hopes to wield as a civilian president or what kind of relationship he would have with a new prime minister, especially one from the civilian opposition.
Recently, he has spoken of a future governing "troika," referring to the president, the prime minister and the new army chief. But many Pakistanis are eager to see Musharraf out of the political scene entirely, and some analysts predict he may be pushed out of office before the end of his five-year term as a civilian president.
Moreover, the army was Musharraf's only real power base, and his retirement signals the end of his formal and perhaps informal authority over the country's most important institution.
The army, which has intervened in civilian rule several times since Pakistan was founded in 1947, remained loyal to Musharraf but was reportedly demoralized by his rising unpopularity and worried that his political troubles were a distraction from fighting increasingly powerful radical Islamic insurgents. The Swat Valley gains announced Wednesday were rare news of a major advance by the army there.
Kiyani, who succeeds Musharraf, is a former military intelligence chief and regional corps commander. Domestic and foreign observers describe him as a taciturn, well-read man and a professional officer with no political ambitions.
"Musharraf tried to reinforce military supremacy over society, and as a result the civil-military divide is greater than ever, at a time when soldiers are risking their lives to fight the extremists and need public support," said Talat Masood, a retired general and military analyst here. Like many Pakistanis, Masood complained that Washington's long-uncritical support -- which shifted decisively only when emergency rule was imposed -- helped feed Musharraf's belief that he was irreplaceable.