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Pakistan President Agrees to Quit Military in Deal with Opposition Alliance - 2003-12-24

Pakistan's year-long political crisis has come to an end with a landmark agreement between the ruling party and the opposition over controversial constitutional amendments introduced by President Pervez Musharraf. The agreement forces Mr. Musharraf to step down as the nation's military chief.

The deal comes following a year of negotiations and debate between the pro-Musharraf ruling party and the leading opposition alliance of religious groups, known as the Mutahidda Majlis-e Amal, or MMA.

In exchange for the president's promise to quit his military post, the MMA has agreed to support a series of constitutional changes that give sweeping powers to the office of the president.

President Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, introduced the constitutional changes just before holding national elections in October 2002.

However, the opposition refused to recognize the amendments unless they are approved in the legislature by a two-thirds majority, as called for in the constitution. That approval is now considered likely, in light of Wednesday's agreement.

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday following the signing of the deal, President Musharraf said he is stepping down from his command of the military in the best interests of Pakistan. The president said he plans to resign as head of the military at an unspecified date, sometime before December 2004. He said the move is meant to promote Pakistani democracy.

Ruling party members, like Senator S.M. Zafar, are hailing the decision as unprecedented in the nation's history.

Senator Zafar said the deal will end a year of political confrontation between his pro-Musharraf party and the opposition. "All controversies will come to an end," he said. "And a democratic process which was, in a way, not functioning fully will be able to function with its full force."

The deal will give the ruling party enough votes in parliament to pass the constitutional amendments, in a legislative session set for Friday.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Musharraf will also submit to a vote of confidence the coming weeks.

Not every one is pleased with the new arrangement, however. Other opposition parties say the MMA has undermined parliament by signing a deal with the pro-military government.