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November 28, 2007
Musharraf Steps Down as Army Chief
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, under intense pressure from domestic opponents and the international community, has stepped down as Chief of Staff of the Army - something he has been promising to do for years:
An emotional Musharraf relinquished his post by handing over his ceremonial baton Wednesday to his successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who is widely expected to maintain the army's pro-Western policies. By all reports, General Kayani is an excellent choice to replace Musharraf as head of the army. He is well known by our military and is well respected for his intelligence and dedication.
"(You) are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in a final speech to the troops, sniffing repeatedly and appearing to blink back tears. Hundreds of senior officers, politicians and other civilians watched from the stands as an unsmiling Musharraf wearing a phalanx of medals and a green sash across his uniform reviewed the ranks to the strains of "Auld Lang Syne."
"I'm proud of this army and I was lucky to have commanded the world's best army," Musharraf said. "I will no longer command ... but my heart and my mind will always be with you."
Since seizing power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf has served as president while retaining his post as head of the armed forces. Musharraf insists that his continued rule as president is vital if Pakistan is to remain stable as it returns to democracy.
But he will have to jostle for power with Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif two former prime ministers just returned from exile and itching to return to office.
His most recent job as head of the Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) might make him suspect except for the fact that a few years ago, he was Benazir Bhutto's personal military aide. He is said to have a modern, pro-western outlook.
Benazir Bhutto praised the move by Musharraf to step down from the army but still insists he must also resign the presidency, something Musharraf is not likely to do unless forced into it by the army. Right now, he rules only with the dispensation of those he used to command. It remains to be seen how far the army will allow him to go before they step in and manage the situation so that secular, non-military rule in Pakistan returns.