News and Information

Pakistan MPs in walk-out protest
September 16, 2004
Opposition MPs in Pakistan have staged a walk-out protest over government calls for President Pervez Musharraf to stay on as head of the army.
Protestors said the calls insulted democratic and constitutional rule.

The president said earlier this year that he would stand down as army chief by January.

Several opposition members criticised remarks made by information minister, who urged the president not to relinquish his military uniform.

'National interest'

The BBC Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says that the national assembly Speaker, Chaudhry Amir Hussain, did not allow a formal debate on the issue. The speaker said he would explain his ruling at a later stage.

Mr Aziz wants the president to remain head of the army

The information minister, in his speech, only made a passing reference to the controversy over President Musharraf's military position, and said it would be decided at an appropriate time.

Earlier, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said it was in the larger national interest for President Musharraf not to step down as army chef at the end of December.

The prime minister said Pakistan was passing through a crucial phase, and it was important that General Musharraf remains as head of state and military chief.

Some governing party deputies even said they would soon table a resolution in parliament which formally asks President Musharraf to keep both positions - a move which our correspondent says is likely to spark a bitter debate in Parliament.

'Backtrack' allegation

The issue become confused after Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Wednesday that President Musharraf would not resign as head of the armed forces as promised.

The minister later retracted his statement.

There have been weeks of speculation and rival motions from parliamentary parties over the issue.

The Islamic alliance has urged Musharraf to keep his pledge

Opposition Islamic parties have consistently accused the president of attempting to backtrack on his pledge to stand down as army chief.

He claimed this month that 96% of people wanted him to keep his military post.

Debate over the president's dual role has simmered since parliamentary elections in October 2002.

It flared up on Monday when the legislature in eastern Punjab adopted a resolution urging President Musharraf to retain both posts for his "policy against terrorism" and "economic stability".


Hard line Islamic parties responded on Wednesday with a motion in North West Frontier Province calling on him to fulfil his pledge to stand down, arguing that it was unconstitutional for him to be president and head of the army at the same time.

The president can keep both the offices. There is no constitutional complication

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed

Uniform divides Pakistan

A spokesman for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party, Sadique al-Farooq, described him as a dictator.

"His claim that he is a man of his word who fulfils his promises has proven false," he said.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says that the uniform issue puts the international community in something of a quandary.

On the one hand it needs a leader who can call on the country's substantial security resources to hunt al-Qaeda suspects and fight Islamic militancy.

But on the other hand, it is uncomfortable with the military's continuing role in Pakistani politics, and it wants a full return to civilian democracy.

In May, the Commonwealth decided to lift the suspension on Pakistan's membership in part because President Musharraf had agreed to stand down as army head.


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