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Pakistan's Musharraf Retires as Head of Army


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

People waited a long time for the ceremony that took place outside Pakistan's army headquarters today.

(Soundbite of ceremony)

INSKEEP: General Pervez Musharraf gave up his job as head of the army. He is keeping his other job as president who came to power in a coup and who starts a new term tomorrow. Musharraf gave up his military job after months of protests against his rule. And NPR's Jackie Northam is tracking the story from the capital city, Islamabad.

And Jackie, first I have to ask you if Musharraf really gave up anything.

JACKIE NORTHAM: He certainly did, Steve. He has given up an enormous amount of power and influence. The army chief of staff of Pakistan is the most powerful position in the country. He is going to be sworn in tomorrow for another five-year term in office as a civilian president, so he will still have some say in how things are run in the country.

But the problem with that is this is actually - by giving up his uniform, he also runs a risk of being overthrown. The Pakistan military has never launched a coup against an army chief of staff; it has launched coups against civilian leaders of the country. That's how Musharraf gained presidency in the first place.

So there's a lot of anger here against Musharraf for things that have happened recently - the state of emergency, the jailing of judges, altering the Constitution. And it seems that, you know, if that anger continues, then there is every chance that he could be overthrown by the military.

INSKEEP: Does he get to name the next head of the army?

NORTHAM: He handpicked the next head of the army, General Ashfaq Kiyani. Kiyani is a 55-year-old general. He spent more than three and a half decades in the military, and people seem to like him here; they think it's a good choice.

However, Kiyani does have a mixed record. He headed up the ISI, which is the intelligence service here in Pakistan. It's akin to the CIA in the U.S. And after 9/11 the ISI under Kiyani's watch started rounding up hundreds of people with suspected links to terrorism, and they simply disappeared.

Kiyani is pro-American, though, and he has received military training in the U.S. at Fort Leavenworth. And most importantly for the U.S. is that he's onboard with this fight against terrorism, as is Musharraf. And that's important, Steve, considering Pakistan sits next to Afghanistan, its pro-Taliban militants throughout the region. And Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country.

INSKEEP: So if you're Pervez Musharraf and trying to survive in power as a civilian president, do you now have to worry about the military more than you have to worry about opposition politicians, former prime ministers, protesters, and other people that he's had to deal with in the past year?

NORTHAM: Yes, I think that would be a fair assessment, because again, the military does have the option; it does have the availability to overthrow civilian heads of government.

As far as the opposition parties are concerned, Musharraf can work around that. They are disorganized; it's unclear whether they are even going to run in the upcoming elections at this point. So certainly overall Musharraf's biggest concern - if, again, this anger against him continues - his biggest concern would be the military.

INSKEEP: The military must still look upon him as their guy though.

NORTHAM: Yes, but I think it's probably short memories as well. Again, you know, the military here is a highly respected institution, and there's many people that feel that Musharraf has somehow tainted that reputation just by the things that he's done over the past month or so. And so, you know, while he was their guy, certainly if it does anything to hurt the military, you know, his life in politics might be very short.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam is in Islamabad, Pakistan. Thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.