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11-28-2007, 10:00 AM

Musharraf retires as Pakistan army chief

By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer 21 minutes ago

Blinking back tears, Pervez Musharraf stepped down as Pakistan's military commander Wednesday, fulfilling a key opposition demand a day before he was to be sworn in as civilian president.

Key opposition leader Benazir Bhutto welcomed the belated step, but she said her party had yet to accept him as head of state.

Britain, which shares the United States' deep concern about Islamic terrorism emanating from Pakistan, said Musharraf's move was "an important part" of his plan to restore constitutional order.

"We understand the threat to Pakistan's peace and security, but I have urged President Musharraf to use the normal democratic process to respond," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

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.

"(You) are the saviors of Pakistan," Musharraf said in a final speech to the troops, sniffing repeatedly and struggling to maintain his composure.

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.

Both are threatening to boycott January parliamentary elections, though they also have registered as candidates and say they only will shun the elections if the entire opposition unites behind that drastic step.

"We welcome Musharraf's decision to shed the uniform. ... Now the Pakistani army has got a full-fledged chief and they can better perform their duties," she told reporters in Karachi.

However, she said her party will think over whether to accept Musharraf's new status as civilian president.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it "a good first step."

"But really, for Pakistan, the most stabilizing thing will be for Pakistan to have free and fair elections so that Pakistan can stay and return to a democratic path, a path that, by the way, President Musharraf has helped to develop with a freer press, with civil society," she said, speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America. "So it's time for Pakistan to move in that direction."

A senior leader of Bhutto's party said Musharraf's quitting the army was "too little, too late."

"Now the political forces and civil society are moving in a different direction, to change the country along purely democratic lines," Mian Raza Rabbani said. "Doffing his uniform will in no way help him to consolidate his rule."

Sharif spokesman Pervez Rasheed said: "Musharraf hasn't taken off his uniform under his own will, rather under pressure from the powers who installed him and kept him in power eight long years," an apparent reference to the United States.

Musharraf had promised to give up his army role at the end of 2004. But he reneged on that pledge, saying the country still needed strong leadership in the face of Islamic extremism.

He has given it up now, in line with the constitution, only after securing a fresh term as president.

He paid tribute to Kayani, a former chief of Pakistan's feared ISI intelligence agency, saying he had known him since he was a colonel and knew his qualities.

Kayani, 55, is widely expected to set forth the army's pursuit of Islamic militants.

Analysts expect him to focus on improving the ability of the army — set up for large-scale battles with India on the plains of Punjab — to carry out counterinsurgency operations.

Kayani also is well-placed to heal the rift that has opened between Musharraf and Pakistan's civilian politicians.

He served as Bhutto's military secretary in the late 1980s, and is said to have a good working relationship with other leading political figures.

Musharraf was re-elected by Parliament in October, but the Supreme Court held up his confirmation following complaints that a military man could not constitutionally serve as an elected head of state.

He reacted by proclaiming a state of emergency on Nov. 3, firing the chief justice and other independent judges and replacing them with his appointees. The reconstituted top court then approved his election.

Officials have indicated that the emergency could be lifted soon after Musharraf takes the presidential oath, but have not set a firm date.

Sharif, who arrived from Saudi Arabia on Sunday, has taken a hard line against Musharraf, who ousted Sharif's second government in the 1999 coup.

A conservative with good relations with Pakistan's religious parties, Sharif is reaching out to the many Pakistanis who oppose Musharraf's close alliance with the United States.

Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule also has strained relations with Bhutto, who shares his secularist, pro-Western views. Bhutto, who has twice been put under house arrest to stop her from leading protests, has joined Sharif in denouncing Musharraf's backsliding on democracy.

Musharraf has relaxed some aspects of the crackdown on dissent launched with emergency rule. Thousands of opponents have been released and all but one independent news channel is back on the air.

However, he has refused to reverse his purge of the judiciary, an act that deepened the animosity toward him from Pakistan's legal fraternity. The justices swept from the Supreme Court remain under house arrest.

On Wednesday, about 400 lawyers staged a protest about two miles from the army headquarters, shouting slogans including "We want freedom!" and "Hang Musharraf!"

"He should be thrown out," said Sardar Asmatullah, a leader of the city's lawyers' association. "He has been a dictator for the last eight years and he has delivered nothing good for this country."


Associated Press writers Sadaqat Jan and Slobodan Lekic in Islamabad and Zarar Khan in Lahore contributed to this report.

11-30-2007, 09:51 PM

Musharraf's emergency upends Pakistan's courts

By Nafisa Hoodbhoy, McClatchy NewspapersFri Nov 30, 4:30 PM ET

KARACHI, Pakistan — A month after President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan , the country's once-independent judiciary is in disarray and still under attack, making it unlikely that America's closest ally in the war on terrorism will have a functioning democracy anytime soon.

Police lines surround the principal courts, unfit judges are taking over the judicial apparatus and the enormous number of lawyers on hunger strikes has slowed the wheels of justice.

When Musharraf handed down his "Provisional Constitutional Order" on Nov. 3 , the federal Supreme Court was about to declare unconstitutional his plan to run for another term as president while remaining the army's chief of staff. Musharraf said he couldn't find a solution within the Pakistani Constitution, so he took "extraconstitutional measures," with the judiciary a prime target. "Some judges by overstepping the limits of judicial authority have taken over the executive and legislative functions," he said in the order.

Even though he's given up his post of army chief of staff, donned civilian clothes and promised to end the stat of emergency by Dec. 16 , Musharraf has said he won't reverse his takeover of the judiciary.

He put Iftikhar Chaudhry , the chief justice of the Supreme Court , under house arrest and demanded that all other judges swear under his order that they don't have the power "to make any order against the president or the prime minister."

Out of 17 Supreme Court judges, 12 refused to take the oath, a pattern that judges in the country's four provinces followed. Musharraf's military government has had to devise unusual ways to fill the vacancies. In Sindh province— whose chaotic capital of Karachi , population 15 million-plus, is Pakistan's biggest city— the process usually begins with a telephone call from military intelligence to leading lawyers, according to Sindh High Court lawyer Shaukat Hayat .

Sabihuddin Ahmed , who'd been the chief justice of Sindh, said he'd rejected "overtures" from the government to remain in his post because the army chief of staff wasn't allowed to issue emergency orders under Pakistan's Constitution.

When Sabihuddin stepped out of his home to drive to the Sindh High Court on Nov. 5 — two days into the emergency— he found police cars barricading his street.

The officer in charge was apologetic but told him that the police "were merely following orders."

The authorities quickly installed new judges who were willing to promise that they'd never challenge the president or prime minister, in some instances abandoning the usual appointment process and administering the oath "within half an hour," said Justice Majda Rizvi , a retired judge of the Sindh High Court .

Rizvi, the former head of the government's Commission on the Status of Women , was offered a ministerial post in Musharraf's caretaker Cabinet, but said she told the authorities, "I couldn't accept, after what you've done to the judiciary."

In other instances, the military has resorted to severe arm-twisting. In Sindh, where less than a third of the judges took the oath under the emergency, the intelligence agencies have taken the lead role in what critics say amounts to blackmail. Rizvi said government officials had even made use of files they kept on corruption cases pending against lawyers in Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau .

After Sabihuddin was ousted from his post as Sindh chief justice, the government hurriedly appointed three other High Court judges: Khawaja Naveed had been the advocate (attorney) general, Qazi Khalid an additional (assistant) advocate general and Rana Shamim an officer in a government institution before they took their oaths as judges.

Other lawyers in the Sindh High Court often have criticized the flamboyant Naveed— known for his cheerful smile and mop of curly hair— for his attempts at humor: giving a "thumbs up" sign and uttering phrases that television presenters use, such as "be back soon." Human rights groups aren't amused by a remark he made while presiding over a rape case: "Where was I?"

The biggest scandal surrounds the new chief justice in Sindh, Afzal Soomro . According to several former judges, Soomro was forced to resign as a judge from the Sindh High Court about nine months ago because of psychiatric problems. Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed , a retired Supreme Court judge, described Soomro as "mentally deranged" in a speech Nov. 14 before the Karachi Press Club .

Lawyers nationwide are astonished at the new appointees' lack of qualifications. The secretary general of the Sukkur High Court Bar Association , Shabbir Shar , said there was "anarchy" in the courts, since lawyers refused to appear before judges who were appointed under Musharraf's state of emergency.

Sindh Bar Council member Noor Naz Agha , released after 18 days of house arrest, said lawyers wouldn't rest until the emergency was revoked.

Still, economic pressures and the pressure by clients to get their cases resolved are slowly forcing lawyers to appear before the new judges. That's plunged the legal community into disarray.

Outside the Sindh High Court building— a British-built brownstone that still has its colonial grandeur— baton-carrying police seated under leafy old trees keep a vigilant eye out for protesters. Not long ago, the police had been there to protect the court. But after the new directives passed, police officers rounded up large numbers of lawyers and bundled them off to nearby jails. Most of them have been released now, according to the government.

Two streets away from the High Court is the Karachi Press Club . Military vehicles and police cars are parked outside, and plainclothes intelligence officials watch the movements of leaders. Every day there's a peaceful hunger strike by journalists outside the club. Inside, civil society groups hold protest rallies; street protests are put down by force.

The news media and the judiciary are being forced into a virtual alliance. Private television channels filming the "humiliating treatment" meted out to judges and lawyers have been blacked out, said Faisal Aziz , the secretary general of the Association of Television Journalists .

Meanwhile, the government's reconstituted Supreme Court , headed by Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar , has dismissed petitions challenging Musharraf's eligibility to be president and has validated all his orders. A caretaker Cabinet will oversee parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8 .

(Hoodbhoy is a special correspondent for McClatchy .)