Musharraf says he might not resign as head of army

Promise made last year to Pakistan's opposition

April 15, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview broadcast yesterday Wednesday that he might break an agreement he made with opposition parties that requires him to resign as army chief by the end of the year. The plan had been praised as a step toward the restoration of full democracy in Pakistan.

In the interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, said he would consider several issues in deciding whether to give up his army post.

Musharraf has faced bitter criticism from opposition political parties, the European Union and the Commonwealth over his holding dual offices as president and head of the army. In December, after months of negotiations with hard-line Islamist parties, he announced he would resign from the army this year.

The agreement struck with the Islamists, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, strengthened hopes of an end to military rule in Pakistan, which has been dominated by the army for most of its modern history.

In the interview, Musharraf accused the Islamists of reneging on the agreement. But his information minister, Sheik Rashid Ahmed, said the president would fulfill his promise and "will hold only one office."

Skeptical opposition politicians said the general was laying the groundwork for an announcement that he would retain his military post. Civilian politicians have long accused the military of trying to control the government from behind the scenes.

"The present regime of generals is not willing to let go of power," said one political opponent, Khawaja Saad Rafique, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). "They are making excuses to break the agreement. It was bound to happen."

The potential political conflict has been highlighted by the Bush administration's expressions of concern over the treason trial and conviction of Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, a prominent opposition candidate. The criticism of the sentencing was a rare rebuke of Musharraf, whom the administration has praised as a close ally in the war on terrorism.

Hashmi was arrested in March after he produced a letter he said was from army officers who said the generals involved in the 1999 coup should be put on trial and that Musharraf's policies were harming Pakistan.

Hashmi said the letter was real. The military-dominated government said it was fake. Pakistani political parties, human rights activists and analysts denounced the trial of Hashmi.

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