Pakistan Power Transfer

Asia Correspondent Stephanie Sy blogs about attending the handover ceremony:

As a general rule, military men don’t cry. But when General Pervez Musharraf gave his final address as Chief of Army Staff, observers could swear they saw tears in his eyes. I was sitting too far away to confirm that.

As the only American reporter invited to the handover ceremony, I sat in a sea of uniforms. In fact, I sat next to some tough-looking army women wearing heavy lipstick and head scarves. They eyed me and my notepad with suspicion. The handover event was held at the Army Hockey Stadium in Rawalpindi, which is about the same size as I remember my high school football field being, seating about 3,000. At least they thought of replacing the bleachers with velvet-covered chairs. Somehow, I expected more grandeur for Musharraf’s retirement. There was barely an Officer Club’s worth of people there. I was told later by a military spokesperson that it was because it was a “last-minute thing.” A lot of people that were invited apparently didn’t have time to travel to Islamabad. And yet, I knew I was witnessing history. Here was a man who had controlled the most powerful institution in Pakistan, the military, for 9 years (far longer than this nation’s constitution allows). All of his power came from his uniform, and now, under intense international pressure, he had to take it off. It was probably not the way he envisioned the end of his 46-year-long military career.

A special honor guard stood in the middle of the hockey field. A band played (a much smaller band than my high school’s). And a half-empty stadium sat under a dusty sun waiting for the ceremony to begin. Musharraf arrived in a black Mercedes in full ceremonial dress uniform. He carried a baton under his arm. He reviewed the honor guard, per military tradition, and then he took to the podium for his farewell address. Even though I don’t understand Urdu, I could tell by the tone that this was not a happy man. It sounded as if he was reading his own eulogy. He spoke in terms of mortality (“every good thing comes to an end”). He may have been referencing his own political survival. He said the Army would always be his family.

Without the mantle of the Army Chief title, Musharraf’s political future is uncertain. The day after he shed his uniform, which he once called his “second skin,” Musharraf was sworn in for another term as civilian president. This was the deal he struck with the world -- he took off his uniform in exchange for another term as president. But you learn quickly here that power is not generally with the civilian leaders. The military has penetrated every aspect of life in Pakistan, and if you ask any analyst, they will tell you that the army has been the only game in town since the country gained independence in 1947. Musharraf didn’t just give up his uniform; he gave up his power base. He had little choice. He’s hoping the army remains loyal, but one former Pakistani diplomat told me that the army is very disciplined -- “they aren’t loyal to Mr. X or Y. Their loyalty is to the Army Chief.” The new Army Chief was hand-picked by Musharraf. General Ashfaq Kayani is a Ft. Leavenworth-trained soldier’s soldier. As the former head of Pakistan’s spy agency, he basically was in charge of the fight against terrorism here. The U.S. apparently trusts him, which is a good thing because he’ll be the new man in charge of the nuclear arsenal, too.

For all the pomp and circumstance, when it came down to it, it was the simplest of ceremonial handovers. Soldiers marched across the field holding a small card table, placed it in front of the stage and did a little jig. On the table was a box carrying a bamboo baton. Musharraf and Kayani approached and with a pass of the baton, from one general, to the next, it was over. There was applause, but I expected fireworks.

Musharraf was sworn in as president today, wearing a black suit -- not a sign of a stripe or medal. His demeanor was completely different than the day before. He addressed the nation confidently, explaining, in earnest, his reasons for enacting emergency rule, saying it was necessary as Pakistan goes through the phases of democracy. He said “democracy” many times -- he also used the word “turbulent” many times to describe the last few months. This time, I wasn’t invited, so I watched the inaugural address on Pakistan’s state television. It was in English this time, clearly addressed to the international press. He didn’t look down as much as he did the day before during his farewell to arms speech. He looked like a man of conviction, but others might say, of delusion.

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