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Pakistan army gets new leader

The change of command may help take politics out of the military.

Published November 29, 2007


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf, after formally stepping down Wednesday as the chief of Pakistan's army, prepared to announce today a timetable for lifting emergency rule and to take an oath as civilian president, officials said.

The change of command Wednesday, which ended Musharraf's eight-year reign as a military ruler and his 36-year career in the army, came as Pakistani troops reported important gains against radical Islamic insurgents in the far north's Swat Valley. The military said 220 militants were killed and troops seized key ground.

Millions of Pakistanis strongly welcomed the news that Musharraf, 64, who had clung to power for the past month by ousting most Supreme Court justices and suspending the constitution, had fulfilled his pledge to retire as the country's top general.

His successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is a popular soldier who is likely to reduce the army's political role, repair frayed ties with politicians and try to turn the tables on an escalating insurgency by pro-Taliban militants.

The 55-year-old career officer is taking control of Pakistan's 600,000-strong armed forces - among the world's largest. He now holds a position more powerful than the presidency. He is considered an independent-minded officer who will put the army's interests ahead of Musharraf's.

Pakistani analysts describe Kayani as a soldier's soldier, with a modern, pro-Western outlook. Although he was hand-picked by Musharraf, Kayani is likely to confine himself to military matters and remove the armed forces from day-to-day politics.

This is in sharp contrast to Musharraf, who retained his top post in the military after taking over the country in a coup in 1999.

Traditionally, Pakistan's army was set up for conventional wars, such as the conflicts with India in 1947, 1965 and 1971. Some attribute its lackluster performance against militants operating near the frontier with Afghanistan to the reluctance of troops to fight their own countrymen.

In the 1990s, Kavani was Benazir Bhutto's military secretary during her first term as prime minister, and he is said to be on good terms with many in Pakistan's political elite. When Musharraf and Bhutto began negotiations on power-sharing this year, Kayani was a go-between.

Information from the Washington Post and the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified November 28, 2007, 22:51:06]

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