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Heard on street: Good riddance but what about politics'

Lahore, Nov. 28 (Reuters): President Pervez Musharraf may have finally made good on a pledge to quit as army chief, but many ordinary Pakistanis today said it was time the coup leader was jettisoned from politics altogether.

Some feel Musharraf has shamed Pakistan in the international arena: judges who threatened his re-election remain jailed, media curbs are in place and he has yet to fully roll back emergency rule or restore the suspended constitution.

“This man is a big cheater. He should be removed altogether. He should be kicked out,” said Amjad Iqbal Butt, a government servant, as he ate chopped bananas sprinkled with spices at a roadside stall in the eastern city of Lahore.

“This disease should have been eradicated from day one,” he added. “Things will not change until he is totally removed.”

Butt wants Opposition leaders and former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, newly returned from exile, to boycott general elections due in early January in protest.

In the restive North West Frontier Province, where the army is locked in fierce fighting with insurgents loyal to a pro-Taliban cleric, the message was the same. “The damage he has done to this country and the nation will not be compensated by merely taking off his uniform. It will be better for the country if he just leaves,” said 18-year-old business administration student Zubair Ahmed, sipping from a cracked tea cup at a canteen in Peshawar.

For others, however, Musharraf’s political manoeuvring is of little or no importance. They are more focused on price rises for daily staples that have made life even harder for the tens of millions of Pakistanis who live in poverty, despite strong economic growth under Musharraf.

“Whether one stays in uniform or not, it’s of no concern to us. Our concern is poverty,” said Mohammad Ashraf, a resident in the western city of Quetta in Baluchistan, as he washed his car. “The poor cares nothing for who is king and whether he’s wearing uniform or not. He needs meals for himself and his family.”

Some had kind words for Musharraf as he bid farewell to army colleagues and handed over command to his chosen successor General Ashfaq Kayani. They said that he had shown leadership by keeping his word and removing his uniform, and that his continued presence would help ensure stability.

“It’s because of him that Pakistan is still surviving. Business has really flourished under his rule,” said Khanzada, 45, a trader in troubled South Waziristan on the Afghan border, where many Taliban and al Qaida militants took refuge after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.

But the majority have had enough of a man who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999. “Over the last couple of years, Musharraf has behaved like a schoolboy and has stuck to his uniform for no reason at all,” said 65-year-old Abdul Aziz Khan, a retired banker.

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