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Pakistan's Musharraf Steps Down as Army Chief


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has stepped down as chief of the army in a ceremony transferring power to his hand-picked successor, General Ashfaq Kayani. On Thursday, Mr. Musharraf is scheduled to take the oath as a civilian president. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Members of Pakistan's caretaker government joined journalists and military officers for the resignation ceremony in a small stadium in Rawalpindi.

In the country's first such transfer of power broadcast live on television, an emotional Pervez Musharraf passed the ceremonial command stick of the army chief of staff to his successor. They then saluted each other.

General Musharraf, wearing a uniform studded with medals, said he was sad to leave the army after 46 years of service, but he expressed confidence in its new leader, General Ashfaq Kayani.

He said he has known General Kayani for the last 20 years. Mr. Musharraf said the general has served under his command and he found him to be an exceptional soldier.

General Kayani takes control of more than 500,000 regular troops as well as those units responsible for safeguarding the country's nuclear arsenal. Analysts say the 55-year-old former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency is likely to continue cooperating with the U.S. counter-terrorism operations in the region.

Mr. Musharraf said Pakistan's military is being stretched by numerous conflicts, but he is confident the military will prevail.

He says the army is under immense pressure from conflicts in Pakistan's tribal areas and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, an ongoing insurgency in Baluchistan, and the threat from terrorist groups that have moved into settled areas of the country.

The resignation fulfills Mr. Musharraf's promise to resign his military command once his re-election as president was confirmed by the Supreme Court. That confirmation came last week.

Opposition leaders welcomed Mr. Musharraf's decision to remove his uniform, which he has at times called his "second skin," but said the president must do more to restore the country's democracy.

Mr. Musharraf's resignation cuts ties with his most powerful support base in the military, but he still enjoys sweeping powers under the country's emergency laws.

Critics say those powers could help him rig January's national elections to strengthen his party, despite his own falling popularity and the return of two former prime ministers opposed to him.

On Thursday, Mr. Musharraf is scheduled to take the presidential oath for his second five-year term. He is also scheduled to make an address on national television that senior officials say may include setting a date for ending emergency rule.

The resignation fulfills Mr. Musharraf's promise to resign his military command once his re-election as president was confirmed by the Supreme Court. That confirmation came last week.

The outgoing chief of staff addressed a crowd of government officials, journalists and military officers in Rawalpindi Wednesday, wearing a uniform studded with medals. He said he was sad to leave the army after 46 years of service, but he expressed confidence in its new leader, General Ashfaq Kayani.

He says the army is under immense pressure from conflicts in Pakistan's tribal areas, an ongoing insurgency in Baluchistan, and terrorist groups. Still, he says he is confident the military will prevail.

Mr. Musharraf's swearing-in as president is due to take place Thursday.

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