Pakistan’s Musharraf Steps Down as Army Chief


Pakistan's new army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, right, watches General Pervez Musharraf finish his speech during today's change of command ceremony.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 28 — A day after resigning as army chief, Pervez Musharraf will be sworn in as a civilian president on Thursday, leaving him with vastly reduced powers and Washington with a far more complex Pakistan to deal with in its fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Bowing reluctantly to pressure at home and abroad, Mr. Musharraf, 64, relinquished his military role in a somber ceremony on Wednesday, ending eight years of military rule. He turned over control of the army to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, 55, a former head of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, who is considered loyal to is former boss.

Yet the move sets up the potential of competing power centers in Pakistan, with a new army chief separate from the president and the recent return from exile of the country’s two main opposition leaders.

That is likely to complicate Bush administration anti-terrorism policy here, something officials in Washington had been hoping to avoid, and one reason they have supported Mr. Musharraf for so long.

In recent months, senior army commanders increasingly grumbled that President Musharraf was so engrossed in his own political survival that he had become distracted from battling the country’s spreading insurgency, Western military officials said.

Having an army chief who would be full time on the job will help the military, they said. General Kayani is expected to remove the army from the center of politics and focus on military tasks, something that will be welcomed in Washington, where he has been praised by Bush administration officials as someone they can work with.

An infantry commander, and a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, General Kayani has been described by Western diplomats and military officials as well-liked and by far the most able commander.

He has played a prominent role already in cooperating with the United States in the fight against terrorism, and is expected to continue that policy. He was promoted to full general and made Vice Chief of Army Staff in October. He immediately visited Pakistani units serving on the front lines in Pakistan’s tribal areas, indicating his priorities, a Western military official said.

Even after Mr. Musharraf takes his new oath on Thursday, he will confront considerable political challenges, but he will now have to deal with them without being able to leverage the authority of the military for himself.

He remains under intense pressure to lift his No. 3 declaration of emergency rule, which suspended the Constitution and the Supreme Court, and has been criticized by opponents and Western diplomats as a blatant move to have his election as president confirmed.

Before giving up his army post, Mr. Musharraf transferred the power to lift the de facto martial law to the presidency in a decree last week, and so when and to what extent emergency rule will be eased remains in his hands.

He is also under pressure to free scores of lawyers and judges who took to the streets to protest the move and who remain under house arrest. Once freed, they are likely to resume their campaign against Mr. Musharraf serving another term, which they still consider illegal.

Not least, with parliamentary elections set for Jan. 8, Mr. Musharraf will also have to deal with two political opponents who are freshly back from exile, the former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, the man he overthrew in a coup in 1999.

Both politicians have called for Mr. Musharraf’s resignation as president and for changes in the Constitution to curb the president’s powers over parliament. As leaders of Pakistan’s largest political parties, either could head the next government as prime minister, perpetuating their power struggles with Mr. Musharraf as president.

While the military under General Kayani is likely to support Mr. Musharraf as president, it is unlikely to intervene to save him in political tests of will, former general and political analyst, Talat Masood, said.

One indication of the mood is a letter that a group of 20 former generals, air marshals and admirals, including Mr. Masood, sent this week to President Musharraf calling on him to resign as head of state as well as chief of the army.

They called on him to lift the emergency and restore the constitution, withdraw curbs on the media and release political prisoners. Imposing the emergency as chief of army staff was bringing the armed forces into disrepute, they said.

“The actions he is taking are really detrimental to the state,” Mr. Masood said. They had encouraged other countries to interfere in Pakistan’s affairs, specifically Saudi Arabia and America, in a way they never had before, and caused Pakistan to lose international respect, he said. He also criticized Mr. Musharraf for suggesting that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would not be safe if he were not in power, which he said was simply untrue.

One of the hardest things for Mr. Musharraf now may be to cease giving the commands.

“He’s the one who wants to sit in the driving seat,” said Pervaiz Elahi, who served as chief minister of the Punjab under General Musharraf. “As commander in chief and president I still see him as controlling the army for five years,” he said.

He added that he did not think General Kayani would seek to change anything. “Kayani is a person who just goes by the book,” he said.

While no longer controlling the army, Mr. Musharraf will retain some levers of influence both within the military and the intelligence services, like his personal relationship with Gen. Nadeem Taj, the head of the Inter Intelligence Services, officials said.

Yet others said that even with the extra powers given to the president in recent years, such as chairing the National Security Council, real power resides with the position of the chief of army staff. Unlike the American system, a civilian president in Pakistan is head of the armed forces on an ex officio basis.

“By the law of inertia he will continue to have some hold of the army,” said I. A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Yet he predicted that over coming months that influence would diminish. “He will still have ears in the army but he will not be able to dictate to them.”

Much depends on who forms a government after parliamentary elections, since military appointments among other things technically reside with the prime minister, said Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times.

Mr. Musharraf has often talked of the need for harmony between the presidency, the judiciary and the army, and in particular between the president, prime minister and chief of army staff. In a recent interview he indicated he hoped his supporters in the previous governing coalition would be returned with a majority again, but some of those members complain that his own mistakes over the past nine months have damaged their chances at the polls.

A series of high handed actions turned Mr. Musharraf from a popular domestic figure and a trophy of sorts for Washington — he signed up to the fight against terror immediately after 9/11 — to an embattled leader at home and an increasing embarrassment for the Bush administration.

His friends and critics, alike, point to his decision to dismiss the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry, in early March as his biggest blunder, one that inexorably led to the imposition of emergency rule on Nov. 3.

“He lost his head and tried to fire the Chief Justice,” said Humayan Gauhar, a friend and the ghostwriter of Mr. Musharraf’s memoir, In the Line of Fire.

The general was prompted by his fear that the increasingly independent court under Justice Chaudhry would eventually rule against him in his effort to be re-elected as president while he remained as army chief, Mr. Gauher said.

Because of his military mindset, Mr. Musharraf failed to calculate, Mr. Gauher said, that the chief justice would mount a popular movement of lawyers that stirred up latent opposition against the general.

“Asking the Chief Justice to retire was a command,” Mr. Gauher said. “I don’t think the refusal was ever in his scheme. A civilian would always keep that possibility in mind.”

The firing of the chief justice brought out a latent public dissatisfaction with military rule. The general’s refusal to give up his military post became the focus of the opposition and obscured many of President Musharraf’s earlier achievements, his supporters said.

When he seized power in 1999 and ousted Mr. Sharif, the former Prime Minister who returned to Pakistan last weekend, Mr. Musharraf was seen as a welcome newcomer who had the capacity to clean up the pervasive corruption in Pakistan’s politics. He described himself as a modernizer. He encouraged the opening of independent television stations, and freed up the statist economy.

Born in India in 1943, he came to Pakistan as a refugee at partition in 1947. That status made him an outsider to the feudal society that had produced most of the nation’s rulers.

In the beginning, he moved swiftly against corruption, said Farook Adam Khan, who served as prosecutor general for the National Accountability Bureau, in the first year of his rule.

But after a year, the general switched gears, Mr. Khan said, and stopped pursuing corruption cases and caving in to the religious parties in his coalition. The various efforts at reforms for women’s rights were watered down.

Mr. Musharraf’s supporters say that removing his uniform may come just in time for him to recoup some of the recognition he deserves and may help the president regain some of his popularity.

“As a president without uniform he will help us in the coming elections,” Mr. Elahi, the former minister who is being touted as a likely prime minister if his pro-Musharraf party retains its majority in parliament.

Carlotta Gall reported from Lahore. Jane Perlez contributed reporting from Islamabad. Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York.

Source: New York Times 

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Posted in Developing Countries, Elections, Intelligence, International Relations, Military, Pakistan, South Asia, United States

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