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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Musharraf Promises Path to Democracy




ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The head of Pakistan's military regime has announced a unilateral reduction of troops on the Indian border, the establishment of a ruling National Security Council and an eventual return to civilian rule.


In a speech to the nation, General Pervaiz Musharraf announced a six-member National Security Council of army officers and experts in legal, foreign and national affairs to govern the country. The council would be assisted by "a think tank of experts,'' he said.


The appearance was Musharraf's first since he went on national television last Tuesday to announce the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's civilian government.


"This is not martial law,'' Musharraf said Sunday, but rather "another path toward democracy.''


The constitution was not scrapped but temporarily suspended, he said. He gave no indication when civilian rule would be restored but said "the armed forces have no intention to stay in charge longer than necessary.''


Musharraf said he would welcome a resumption of "result-oriented'' talks with India, but made it clear Pakistan will continue to support Kashmiri militants seeking independence from India by providing moral, political and diplomatic backing.


Pakistani troops began moving back from the border Monday, making good on the pledge to thin its forces to ease border tensions, an official said.


India responded coolly to the gesture, saying the move had little military significance.


Pakistan army spokesman Colonel Saulat Raza said reinforcements that were sent to the border during fighting over the disputed territory of Kashmir last summer were moving out. He said the numbers were classified.


The withdrawal was only along the 740-kilometer-long international border and did not apply to the cease-fire line in Kashmir, a territory split between the rival countries, Raza said.


Brijesh Mishra, a top security aid to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, dismissed the move.


"Tension was not on the international border. It was on the Line of Control,'' he said, referring to the 1972 cease-fire line in Kashmir.


In Sunday's address, Musharraf offered several gestures to the international community.


He promised nuclear "restraint,'' an unexpected hint at a departure from the previous government's repeated threats to test new missiles and build a nuclear arsenal if India did. Last year, Pakistan followed India in testing nuclear devices. But Musharraf on Sunday left the door open to signing a test ban treaty, saying, "Pakistan has always been alive to international nonproliferation concerns.''


The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, William Milam, said Monday that the United States is ready to give Musharraf time to make good on his promises. "We are confident General Musharraf is a moderate man who is acting out of patriotic motivation and was provoked into doing what he is doing,'' said Milam, referring to the coup that threw out the elected government.


Although Washington regrets that Musharraf has offered no time frame for a return to democracy, Milam said he believes Musharraf is a man the United States can work with.


In a setback for the military regime, however, Commonwealth foreign ministers on Monday suspended Pakistan from the councils of the association of former British colonies. The move is the first formal step toward a full suspension, which would have to be done at the organization's summit meeting in South Africa from Nov. 12 to 15.


The eight foreign ministers made the decision under a 1991 code of good governance to which Commonwealth countries are supposed to adhere.


Pakistan denounced the suspension as unfair and accused the Commonwealth of bias in favor of India.


In New Delhi, India's army commander, General V.P. Malik said the pullback had little military significance and said his forces would not immediately respond. "We shall assess the situation and our deployment on the basis of the overall security situation along the international border as well as the Line of Control,'' the Press Trust of India news agency quoted him as saying.