Islamabad, Dec. 24: Forced to choose, Pervez Musharraf prefers to be President, not General.
In a dramatic deal with the political establishment ahead of a possible meeting between the leaders of Pakistan and India at the coming Saarc summit here, Musharraf today ended a one-year parliamentary standoff by agreeing to give up the army chief’s post by the end of next year in return for legitimacy for his presidency.
“I have decided that I will shed my uniform in December 2004,” he said in an address.
The announcement came after the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) and the powerful opposition Islamic alliance — Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal — signed an agreement to resolve a constitutional crisis.
The parliament had been virtually paralysed by opposition to Musharraf holding two posts and to constitutional amendments that give him unchecked powers to dismiss the government and the legislature.
Musharraf called the development “historic”.
“It was a difficult decision for me personally. I have been saying that a President in uniform is undemocratic, but it was important due to the peculiar circumstances in Pakistan. I have taken the decision in the interest of political harmony.”
A delegation of the ruling party headed by Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali met Musharraf in the afternoon and received approval for the agreement.
Under the deal, Musharraf will obtain a vote of confidence from his electoral college — the National Assembly, the Senate and the four provincial assemblies.
Although Musharraf sought to legitimise his presidency in a referendum last year, handing himself five more years in power, the exercise never received political endorsement. After the vote of confidence, he can claim to have been elected democratically and remain in the presidency till 2007.
The move answers a key demand by the Commonwealth for suspended Pakistan’s re-entry.
The ratification of the presidency is expected to be completed by January 1, before the Saarc summit begins on January 4.
In the run-up to the Agra summit in 2001, Musharraf had made a similar move, taking over as President after ousting Rafiq Tarar.
If there is a meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and a Pakistani leader, it would now likely be Musharraf.
“It (the deal) would improve Pakistan’s image abroad and give the world the impression that Pakistan is moving towards democracy,” said Fazal-ur-Rahman, a leader of the opposition Islamic alliance that had almost crippled the parliament with protests against the President.
Under today’s agreed package, the President will retain the right to dissolve the parliament. But he would have to move a reference within 15 days of the dissolution in the Supreme Court, which would announce its verdict in 30 days.
Musharraf’s earlier proposal to constitute a military-dominated national security council has been dropped. It would now be created by an act of parliament.