Musharraf confirmed as army chief

Pakistan's acting president has signed a bill that will allow military ruler Pervez Musharraf to stay on as army chief despite his pledge to quit the office by the end of the year.

    The president had earlier pledged to step down from the position

    The two houses of parliament passed the bill last month to

    enable Musharraf to hold both the offices of president and of

    army chief.

    Acting President Muhammad Mian Soomro, who is chairman of

    the upper house of parliament or Senate, signed the bill into

    law on Tuesday.

    He did so in the absence of Musharraf, who is visiting Latin America,

    Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad said.

    "The acting president has signed the bill," he said

    . "The president can now keep both offices."

    Musharraf has said he has not yet taken a final decision on

    whether to quit as army chief, but experts say he could use the

    legislation as a legal justification to keep both positions.

    Opposition condemnation

    Under a deal with an alliance of Islamic parties last year,

    Musharraf pledged to give up his military post by the end of

    2004 in return for support for constitutional changes

    validating his rule and giving him extensive power.

     

    "It is the darkest day in the political history of

    Pakistan.

    It is perhaps the last nail in the coffin of democracy

    in Pakistan"

    Raza Rabbani,
    Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)

    But he recently suggested he would not do so, saying

    quitting the army could undermine his authority in the "war on

    terror" as well as his ability to push forward a nascent peace

    process with arch-rival India.

    Opposition groups denounced the signing of the bill and

    said it dealt a serious blow to democracy in Pakistan, which

    has been ruled by the military for more than half of the 57

    years it has been an independent state.

    "It is the darkest day in the political history of

    Pakistan," said Raza Rabbani, a senior leader of the Pakistan

    Peoples Party (PPP), led by exiled former prime minister Benazir

    Bhutto.

    "It is perhaps the last nail in the coffin of democracy

    in Pakistan."

    The signing of the bill came just three days after the main

    Islamic opposition began a public campaign to try to force

    Musharraf to quit the powerful army position.

    Muted criticism

    The Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), a grouping

    made up of PPP and other secular parties, has also announced a

    protest plan.

     

    The opposition wants Musharraf
    to end his army role

    The ARD will hold its first rally in the

    northwestern city of Peshawar on 5 December.

    Despite ideological differences, the two alliances are

    trying to find common ground for a joint struggle against

    Musharraf.

    But analysts say that the agitation by the

    opposition poses no immediate threat to Musharraf because the

    pro-military Pakistan Muslim League dominates parliament.

    While Western countries have voiced concern over

    Musharraf's democratic credentials, criticism has been muted

    because of his role in helping Washington in its "war on

    terror".

    SOURCE: Reuters


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