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Pakistan Parliament Allows President Musharraf to Remain Army Chief - 2004-10-14

Pakistan's lawmaking National Assembly has passed a bill to allow President Pervez Musharraf to stay on as chief of the military. The pro-Musharraf ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League, presented the bill in the lower house of parliament, saying it would keep the war on terror and economic reforms on track.

The bill will now be presented in the upper house, where the ruling party also has a majority, before being sent to Mr. Musharraf and signed into law. If it passes, the bill will allow President Musharraf to continue to hold two offices at once.

Senator Tariq Azeem is a spokesman for the ruling party. He says most people want President Musharraf to keep both the offices. "The people are more concerned about employment, education, law and order," he noted. [We believe that] a president in uniform, it gives him that extra dimension which Pakistan needs for stability." The opposition is loudly protesting the bill and insisting President Musharraf resign - either as army chief or as president. Opposition members are saying the bill shows that President Musharraf has not transferred power to a civilian government and that the military dictatorship continues.

"The civilian forces are totally now pushed into the wall into the corner and the military supremacy has been now completely established," stated Fauzia Wahab, an opposition lawmaker.

President Musharraf has won praise from the United States and other western nations for Pakistan's role in the U.S.-led war on terror and his crackdown on Inslamic militants.

But his critics and some human rights advocates say democracy has regressed under the general's leadership. The military has ruled Pakistan at least half of the time since independence in 1947.

Law experts say the bill does not bind the military leader to two roles, but allows him to break a promise he made to the nation last December to give up one of his positions by the end of year.