Islamabad: Heeding to domestic and international pressures to give up dual posts, Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday stepped down as Army Chief after a nine-year reign, handing over the baton to his trusted deputy Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani before taking oath as a civilian President on Thursday.
The “change of command” ceremony, replete with military pomp and traditions, was held at a stadium in the army’s General Headquarters in the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Ending a 46-year career in the army, Musharraf formally handed over the charge to Kiyani, the 52-year-old former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency who was hand-picked by him last month to head the 500,000-strong force.
“I am saddened that I will not be in uniform from tomorrow and it is difficult to express my feelings in words,” Musharraf, a former commando, said in his farewell address.
“After being in uniform for 46 years, I am saying goodbye to this force. This army is my life, my passion, I have been in love with this force,” the Pakistani President said.
Musharraf, 64, was appointed Army Chief on October 7, 1998 by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who promoted him over several other officers. The two men soon fell out over differences on several issues, including the incursion into the Kargil area of Jammu and Kashmir, and Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.
”After you have spent half a century in the family of the Pakistani armed forces -- forces which have given me total loyalty and love -- there is sadness in leaving,” said Musharraf, wearing a ceremonial dress, medals and a green sash, as his wife Sehba, looking glum, listened in rapt attention.
“I know the army is under a lot of pressure today. It has been in Siachen and Kashmir, there are operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, settled areas of NWFP, though operations have reduced in Balochistan,” he said.
“But I would like to say this is part of our duty. When we put on this uniform, we vow to even give up our life. We can’t run away from this promise.”
“The armed forces of Pakistan are an integrating force, they are a binding force for the country and they are the saviours of Pakistan,” Musharraf told the gathering comprising serving and retired army officers, diplomats and members of the interim government, including caretaker Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro.
Referring to his successor, Musharraf said: “I am handing over command to Gen Kiyani, a man I have known for over 20 years. He has served under me and I know he is an excellent soldier.
“I have full faith that under his command the force will attain new heights. I am sure you will be as loyal to him as you have been to me.”
Earlier, Musharraf was welcomed by Kiyani to the ceremony at the Hockey Stadium near the General Headquarters. An army band played the national anthem before Musharraf reviewed a marching parade comprising contingents from the Frontier Force and Azad Kashmir Force.
Musharraf’s address was followed by a performance by a brass band and a drum solo, after which he handed over the “change of command” baton to Kiyani.
The military ruler shook hands with members of the audience, including several retired officers, before leaving the stadium with Kiyani.
Regarded as a Musharraf loyalist, Kiyani was promoted as the Vice chief of Army Staff on October 2. The chain-smoking career soldier managed to beat several fellow corps commanders in a closely fought race for the top slot of Army.
Kiyani, who always kept a low public profile, was replaced as the ISI chief on September 21 in a reshuffle of the top Army brass. He had worked closely with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as her military secretary and was the chief negotiator in her talks with Musharraf for a political rapprochement.
An avid golfer and a keen sportsman, Kiyani is married and has a son and a daughter.