Musharraf Ends an Era in Pakistan

It was the end of an era for Pakistan and an emotional farewell from President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down as commander of the army today.

"After 46 years of being in uniform, today I say goodbye to the army," Musharraf told Pakistani officers and their wives. "I am sad to leave the army which has been like a family to me."

Wearing a khaki dress uniform, a sheath of medals and a sash with Pakistan's green and white colors, a dejected-looking Musharraf gave a final salute to the honor guard.

He then passed a ceremonial baton to his deputy Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.


Stepping down from the powerful position of army chief was a major concession for Musharraf, who will be sworn in Thursday for another five-year term as president, this time a civilian one.

Musharraf commanded this volatile, nuclear-armed Islamic nation for eight years after seizing power in a 1998 coup.

He has repeatedly claimed his power grab was in the best interests of Pakistan, which he steered through turbulent times after the Sept. 11 attacks. During his presidency he has received immense pressure from the West to turn against radical Islamic groups -- including the Taliban -- which Islamabad leadership had long nurtured.

But contrary to his stated policy to hunt down terrorists, extremists flourished during Musharraf's eight years in power, critics charge.

In recent months, officials in Washington have become concerned that while Musharraf was preoccupied by a widening political crisis, al Qaeda was regrouping in Pakistan's tribal areas and planning more attacks on the West.

In early November, Musharraf suspended the constitution, imposing de facto martial law, prompting violent protests.

Musharraf may have been sad to hang up his uniform, but few people in Pakistan shed a tear.

"I think many people have taken a sigh of relief today," Lt. Gen. Talat Massood, a former defense secretary, told ABC News.

But problems remain. The post Musharraf reluctantly handed to Kayani is as challenging as ever.

Just this week, the army launched a massive campaign to clear pro-Taliban insurgents from a scenic valley in Pakistan's northwest. With help from al Qaeda, analysts say, the insurgents have swept down from the Afghan border, taking control of significant swaths of territory.

Meanwhile Osama bin Laden has declared a holy war against the Pakistan army. Suicide attacks once unheard of here are now a weekly occurrence.

Western diplomats and military advisers praised Musharraf's pick of a successor, saying Kayani, a chain-smoker and avid golfer, is the best man in the Pakistan army to take the helm.

The former chief of Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Kayani is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. He has worked closely with the United States in the war on terror and is expected to continue that policy.

Analysts describe him as a "soldier's soldier." He's expected to withdraw the army from the political process and help refocus military efforts to root out Islamic extremists.

"Pakistan needs an army chief who is devoted full time to the army," said Massood.

Musharraf will take the oath as a civilian president Thursday. The big question now is whether stepping down as army chief will do anything to diffuse the political crisis that's gripped the country since March.

Some Pakistanis have rejected the compromise that resulted in Musharraf relinquishing his control of the army without lifting martial law, saying it was cooked up by Washington.

Others praised the move, saying it would restore stability to a nation that has been racked by weeks of violence.

Lawyers, who have led months of protests over the crackdown, immediately took to the streets, demanding a swift end to emergency rule and that the military leader withdraw from politics altogether.

Opposition politicians like Benazir Bhutto want Musharraf to lift emergency rule ahead of general elections set for early January.

In a nation that's deeply distrustful of Washington's motives here, some are already posturing themselves as anti-American.

"We are against extremism and terrorism," Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who just returned from exile, told reporters. "But it doesn't mean to allow foreign countries to bomb our people."