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Pakistan President Decrees Constitutional Changes - 2002-08-21

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has unilaterally amended the country's constitution to boost his own power. The controversial move has also formalized the military's role in governing the nation.

President Musharraf has introduced changes in the constitution, despite strong opposition from political parties, lawyers, and human rights groups. The move comes less than two months before the October 10 parliamentary elections, which are intended to restore civilian rule in Pakistan.

President Musharraf gave details of the constitutional amendments at a news conference Wednesday in Islamabad.

The military leader says the changes give him the power to dismiss parliament and create a National Security Council to oversee the elected government. The 13-member council will have senior army generals as its members, in addition to elected civilian leaders

"There shall be a National Security Council to serve as a forum for consultations on strategic matters pertaining to the sovereignty, integrity and security of the state. And the matters relating to democracy, governance, and inter-provincial harmony," the president said.

President Musharraf admitted there is widespread opposition to the creation of the National Security Council. But he says it is essential for future political stability in Pakistan.

He dismissed suggestion that the council would give the military a formal role in the national politics. "No. Not at all," said President Musharraf. "The National Security Council has got absolutely nothing to do with running the country. I have nothing to do with running the county. I have no executive authority. I will never intrude in the running of the government by the Prime Minister. [The NSC] has nothing to do with governing. They will meet occasionally to oversee if, at all, there is something wrong being done by the government."

Nearly all Pakistan's political parties and legal experts have criticized President Musharraf for amending the constitution. They maintain that the Pakistani constitution gives an elected government such powers.

Nevertheless, President Musharraf emphasized he has the authority to take the actions he announced. "I am hereby making it part of the constitution through the powers given to me by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. I do not need the assembly's approval," he said.

President Musharraf took power in a bloodless military coup in October 1999.

The country's supreme court approved his action, but gave him three years to hold national elections to restore civilian rule. It also gave the military leader power to make necessary changes in the constitution to carry out political and economic reforms.