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Pakistani Leader to Give Up Uniform

Pervez Musharraf promises to step down as army chief in a year in exchange for support of a large opposition bloc in the legislature.

December 25, 2003|Mubashir Zaidi | Special to The Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After months of wrangling, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, announced Wednesday that he would give up his general's uniform in a year in exchange for the main opposition alliance's support of his rule until 2007.

In a televised address to the nation, Musharraf said he would step down as head of Pakistan's army in December 2004 as part of a deal struck with an alliance of Islamic hard-liners, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

Under the agreement, Musharraf said, he would keep the powers to dissolve parliament and appoint chiefs of the armed forces while allowing the legislature to approve members of the powerful National Security Council.

"It was a difficult decision," Musharraf said. "I will lay off my uniform in December 2004."

The agreement ends a yearlong struggle between the president and the alliance that had paralyzed parliament.

Other opposition parties, including those of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, announced that they would continue to protest what they called Musharraf's dictatorial rule.

But the government accord with the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal seems certain to weaken the opposition's agitation against Musharraf, who came to power in October 1999 in a bloodless coup, overthrowing Sharif's democratically elected government.

Also Wednesday, opposition parties joined with the family of Pakistan's atomic bomb developer, Abdul Qadeer Khan, in accusing Musharraf of trying to make Khan and fellow scientists scapegoats over the possible transfer of nuclear technology to Iran.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has claimed that some individuals, acting on their own, may have transferred secrets out of greed or personal ambition, and a number of scientists, including Khan, have been questioned.

Khan's daughter, Dina Khan, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that her father is not happy with the investigations and believes that he is being singled out by Musharraf to deflect attention from others.

Khan headed Pakistan's nuclear program from the 1980s, directing successful tests of nuclear weapons in 1998 after India conducted its own test blasts.

Khan remained in charge of Pakistan's nuclear program until 2001, when he was replaced by Musharraf and made advisor to the president.

The investigations and debriefing of nuclear scientists have generated heated debate in the country. Many current and retired officials linked with the country's nuclear program claimed that it is impossible for any scientist acting alone to transfer nuclear secrets.

Pakistan's military intelligence, one of the country's most powerful intelligence agencies, is responsible for the security of the research laboratories where the nation's nuclear weapons are developed.

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