Islamabad: Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf was sworn in as president for a second term Thursday, but this time as a civilian and without his army uniform to protect him from massive pressure to end emergency rule.
Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, took the oath for another five years in office from the country’s newly installed chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar at the presidential palace in Islamabad.
It came a day after he stepped down as chief of the powerful army under fierce international and domestic pressure for him to end eight years of turbulent military rule ahead of elections set for 8 January 2008.
“This is a milestone in the transition of Pakistan to a complete democracy,” Musharraf, 64, said in a speech after the solemn ceremony broadcast live on state television.
“I am grateful to the Pakistani nation for placing this confidence in me.”
Musharraf vowed that the general elections will take place “come hell or high water,” but rejected pressure to lift a state of emergency, saying he wanted democracy but “we will do it our way.”
Wearing a traditional black tunic, Musharraf recited the oath in front of hundreds of dignitaries after a recitation from the Koran.
The guests included Musharraf’s handpicked heir as army chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, who looked on impassively.
The swearing-in came just hours after US President George W. Bush and his chief diplomat Condoleezza Rice welcomed his resignation from the army but urged him to lift emergency rule to pave the way for free and fair elections.
“In my judgment, in order to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy, he’s got to suspend the emergency law before elections,” Bush told CNN in an interview.
But Bush praised Musharraf as “an absolute reliable partner in dealing with extremists and radicals” and hailed his decision to bow to international pressure and quit as army chief to end eight years of military rule.
The United States has led international calls for Musharraf to end the state of emergency which he declared on 3 November.
Dogar, the chief justice, was installed when Musharraf sacked most of Pakistan’s top judges and suspended the constitution under the emergency order.
Critics say Musharraf imposed the emergency to rid the Supreme Court of hostile judges amid fears they would rule that his victory in a presidential election on 6 October 6 was illegal.
Musharraf has said the emergency was a necessary response to a wave of Islamic militant attacks and a meddling judiciary.
As civilian president, Musharraf will have the power to dismiss the government but will face increased opposition from former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both of whom recently returned from exile.
Bhutto said a day earlier that Musharraf had met one of her key demands, but warned: “We are not in a hurry to accept Pervez Musharraf as a civilian president.”