| Musharraf wipes his eye after being sworn in as a civilian President in Islamabad on Thursday. (AP)
Islamabad, Nov. 29: Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said today he would end the state of emergency and restore the Constitution next month.
“I’m fully determined that the emergency will be lifted on December 16,” Musharraf said in an address to the nation on the day of his inauguration as a civilian President, for a second five-year term. He stepped down as army chief yesterday. “God willing, the election should be held under the Constitution in a free and transparent manner,” he said, referring to the January 8 general election.
Thousands of Opposition politicians and lawyers were detained under emergency laws, independent media were shut and sporadic anti-Musharraf protests were curbed by baton-wielding police.
Musharraf earlier proffered an olive branch to old political rivals outraged by his declaration of emergency rule on November 3, welcoming their return from exile as good for political reconciliation.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned on Sunday and another old rival, Benazir Bhutto, came back last month. Musharraf deposed Sharif in 1999 in a bloodless military coup and forced the two-time Premier abroad a year later.
Musharraf said Bhutto and Sharif had now been given a “level playing field” and urged them and other politicians not to boycott the election.
Sharif and Bhutto, also a former Prime Minister, argued that the vote could not be free and fair if held under emergency powers.
Sharif said after meeting some of his Opposition colleagues that they had decided “in principle” to boycott the vote but they would consult Bhutto and will aim to reach a final decision at an all-party conference.
The 64-year-old Musharraf said the country would be stronger with him as a civilian leader and his hand-picked successor, General Ashfaq Kayani, in charge of the military. “This is a milestone in the transition of Pakistan to a complete essence of democracy,” he said.
Musharraf, who cited rising militancy when he imposed the emergency, said the military had “broken the back of the spread of terrorism” from remote tribal lands on the Afghan border towards urban population centres. “We have to defeat terrorism,” he said, hours after a bomb killed five soldiers near the Afghan border.