ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Legislators approved President Pervez Musharraf's hold on power until at least 2007 on Thursday, despite a walkout by opposition members of parliament who insist that the army general's rule is illegal.
The Pakistani leader, who seized power in a 1999 coup and has become a key ally in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, won votes of confidence in both houses of parliament, the latest victory in his long struggle to legitimize his presidency.
The balloting came on the eve of a crucial summit of regional leaders that is to start Sunday here in the Pakistani capital.
Musharraf will play host to the two-day conference of the South Asian Assn. for Regional Cooperation and is expected to meet with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who will be making his first visit to Pakistan in four years.
Many Indians and Pakistanis, weary of a half-century conflict over the disputed Kashmir region, hope that the summit will bring formal peace talks closer.
Masood Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, said this week that his government would not bring up the Kashmir issue at the summit, respecting a long-standing tradition of the South Asian organization that countries should not raise bilateral issues. Leaders of the seven-nation group, which also includes Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives, are expected to sign a regional free trade agreement.
But most eyes will be on Vajpayee, Musharraf and Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali for any signs of an improvement in relations.
India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 and have in recent years become nuclear powers, Thursday reached another milestone on the journey toward normal relations when a Pakistan International Airlines 747 jumbo jet arrived in New Delhi from Lahore.
It was the first commercial flight between the countries since India severed air links in 2002, after a terrorist attack on the Parliament complex in New Delhi. India accused Pakistan of masterminding the assault, which it denied.
The countries also exchanged lists of nuclear facilities and installations Thursday under a bilateral agreement signed in 1989. The first such annual exchange of lists took place Jan. 1, 1992.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., Musharraf signed on early to the Bush administration's battle against terrorism. Pakistani authorities say they have detained more than 500 suspected members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and Taliban operatives. Two men linked by authorities to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were captured in Pakistan.
In June, Musharraf became the first South Asian leader to be invited to Camp David, meeting with President Bush at the Maryland retreat.
Following the walkout by opposition lawmakers Thursday, Musharraf won support from 191 legislators in the 342-member National Assembly, with no votes against him. In the Senate, 56 members out of 100 voted in favor of Musharraf. One senator voted against him.
Assemblies in the nation's four provinces -- Punjab, North-West Frontier, Baluchistan and Sindh -- also approved Musharraf's rule, despite walkouts.
In announcing the results on state-run television, the chief election commissioner, retired Justice Irshad Hasan Khan, declared that lawmakers had approved a five-year presidential term for Musharraf, beginning with a disputed 2002 referendum on his rule.
"Musharraf has staged another drama to get his illegal presidency validated," said Ahsan Iqbal, coordinator of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League. The party is headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf overthrew in 1999.
"It is a total fraud," Iqbal told Associated Press. "We don't accept these results. We do not accept him as president."
Musharraf's critics in the mainstream political opposition argue that he has empowered Islamic hard-liners by continuing a military alliance with Pakistan's mullahs that dates back to former military dictator Zia ul-Haq's 1977-88 regime.
Musharraf allowed elections for state and national assemblies in October 2002, and an alliance of Islamic parties, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, now holds the balance of power in parliament after he banned two exiled former prime ministers -- Sharif and Benazir Bhutto -- from running. To break a yearlong standoff with the alliance, Musharraf struck a deal last month in which he agreed to quit as head of the army within a year. In exchange, the Islamists abstained from the vote of confidence, giving Musharraf the simple majority he needed.
The Islamists also hold power in North-West Frontier and Baluchistan, border provinces that neighboring Afghanistan says are rear bases for resurgent Taliban fighters and their allies. The guerrillas launch almost daily attacks on U.S.-led forces based in Afghanistan.