Musharraf retires as Pakistan army chief
By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer 21 minutes ago
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Blinking back tears, Pervez
Musharraf stepped down as Pakistan's military
commander Wednesday, fulfilling a key opposition
demand a day before he was to be sworn in as civilian
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.
An emotional Musharraf relinquished his post by
handing over his ceremonial baton Wednesday to his
successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who is widely expected
to maintain the army's pro-Western policies.
"(You) are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in
a final speech to the troops, sniffing repeatedly and
struggling to maintain his composure.
Hundreds of senior officers, politicians and other
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."
"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."
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.
But he will have to jostle for power with Bhutto and
Nawaz Sharif two former prime ministers just
returned from exile and itching to return to office.
Both are threatening to boycott January parliamentary
elections, though they also have registered as
candidates and say they only will shun the elections
if the entire opposition unites behind that drastic
"We welcome Musharraf's decision to shed the uniform.
... Now the Pakistani army has got a full-fledged
chief and they can better perform their duties," she
told reporters in Karachi.
However, she said her party will think over whether to
accept Musharraf's new status as civilian president.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it "a good
"But really, for Pakistan, the most stabilizing thing
will be for Pakistan to have free and fair elections
so that Pakistan can stay and return to a democratic
path, a path that, by the way, President Musharraf has
helped to develop with a freer press, with civil
society," she said, speaking on ABC's "Good Morning
America. "So it's time for Pakistan to move in that
A senior leader of Bhutto's party said Musharraf's
quitting the army was "too little, too late."
"Now the political forces and civil society are moving
in a different direction, to change the country along
purely democratic lines," Mian Raza Rabbani said.
"Doffing his uniform will in no way help him to
consolidate his rule."
Sharif spokesman Pervez Rasheed said: "Musharraf
hasn't taken off his uniform under his own will,
rather under pressure from the powers who installed
him and kept him in power eight long years," an
apparent reference to the United States.
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
He has given it up now, in line with the constitution,
only after securing a fresh term as president.
He paid tribute to Kayani, a former chief of
Pakistan's feared ISI intelligence agency, saying he
had known him since he was a colonel and knew his
Kayani, 55, is widely expected to set forth the army's
pursuit of Islamic militants.
Analysts expect him to focus on improving the ability
of the army set up for large-scale battles with
India on the plains of Punjab to carry out
Kayani also is well-placed to heal the rift that has
opened between Musharraf and Pakistan's civilian
He served as Bhutto's military secretary in the late
1980s, and is said to have a good working relationship
with other leading political figures.
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
reconstituted top 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
Sharif's second government in the 1999 coup.
A conservative with 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's
backsliding on democracy.
Musharraf has relaxed some aspects of the crackdown on
dissent launched with emergency rule. Thousands of
opponents have been released and all but one
independent news channel is back on the air.
However, he has refused to reverse his purge of the
judiciary, an act that deepened the animosity toward
him from Pakistan's legal fraternity. The justices
swept from the Supreme Court remain under house
On Wednesday, about 400 lawyers staged a protest about
two miles from the army headquarters, shouting slogans
including "We want freedom!" and "Hang Musharraf!"
"He should be thrown out," said Sardar Asmatullah, a
leader of the city's lawyers' association. "He has
been a dictator for the last eight years and he has
delivered nothing good for this country."
Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Slobodan
Lekic in Islamabad and Zarar Khan in Lahore
contributed to this report.