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Pakistan's Musharraf Attends Military Farewell


By Barry Newhouse
Islamabad

Pakistan's Musharraf Attends Military Farewell Ceremonies

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has attended military farewell ceremonies before his expected retirement as head of the country's armed forces. Analysts say the move could end up improving both the military and the government.

General Musharraf met with senior commanders at the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, bidding them farewell in closed-door ceremonies that are part of the military's formal retirement process.

Officials said General Musharraf will retire Wednesday, when his successor General Ashfaq Kayani takes over.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javid Iqbal Cheema said the transfer of power to General Kayani will not affect the military's fight against terrorism.

"I do not think the doffing of uniform would have any impact on this war on terror," Cheema said. "It is a challenge and a very serious threat to our internal security and we would continue our efforts to rid the country of extremists and terrorists."

Retired general and military analyst Talat Masood said General Musharraf's military retirement would allow the new army chief to focus on the military while the president handles only political issues.

Masood said the retirement could also fundamentally change Pakistan's government, weakening the military's role in shaping policy and strengthening political parties.

"There will be a very different power structure emerging," Masood said. "He [Musharraf] has to now give in to the political parties themselves."

Opposition parties have welcomed the general's retirement announcement, but have not toned-down their criticism of his policies.

Critics say Pakistan's continuing emergency rule and a caretaker government made up largely of politicians from President Musharraf's party are signs that the president is trying to rig national elections in January.

Farzana Raja is a political candidate with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. She says opposition parties are trying to stay united on whether they will boycott the polls.

"We are in contact with the other political parties to make sure we take one decision, all together, for the restoration of true democracy in this country," Raja said.

While nearly all opposition parties have registered candidates for the January 8 vote, they say they may still boycott the elections unless the government ends emergency rule, reinstates deposed Supreme Court justices, and restores the Constitution.

ENDS

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