West Eyes Musharraf's Promise to Leave Army ; President Pervez Musharraf Has Promised to Step Down from His Military Role by the End of This Year

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Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf has two titles - president and general - with two wardrobes to match. He dons a camouflage commando jacket when taking a hard line against Muslim militants, and a traditional salwar chemise when extending an olive branch to India, or otherwise projecting reform.

Now Mr. Musharraf has committed to folding away his fatigues by year's end.

Smart stage management and impeccable use of his two costumes has won the general-turned-president plaudits from the West. Earlier this year, the US declared Pakistan a major non-NATO ally. And just last month, the Commonwealth, a 53-member association of mostly former British colonies, restored Pakistan's membership after its suspension in 1999 when Musharraf took power in a bloodless military coup.

The Commonwealth's decision served as an endorsement for Musharraf's attempts to bring "sustainable democracy" to the grass roots. But opponents say such votes of confidence help him to get away with controversial decisions in domestic affairs.

"The West wants to reward the general for the role he is playing ... in combating terrorism ... by overlooking the mass violation of democratic norms and values in the country," says Farhatullah Babar, spokesman of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP). "He is the president, he is the military chief, and he is also the head of the National Security Council. It is simply a dictatorship."

After seizing power, Musharraf promised to hold elections within three years. He delivered in October 2002, but only after announcing controversial amendments that gave him power to suspend parliament and dismiss the prime minister. The main opposition leaders and twice-elected prime ministers - Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto - were barred from contesting elections and are now both in exile. In April 2002, the general was elected to a five-year term in a vote described as "rigged" by opposition.

In order to get the constitutional amendments passed by Parliament, Musharraf promised the alliance of religious extremist parties, called the Muttahida Majilis-e-Amal (MMA), that he would step down from his military role by the end of this year. …