Pale shadow of his old persona

Updated on Nov 29, 2007 10:15 PM IST

Pervez Musharraf, who assumed office as a civilian President of Pakistan, looks a pale shadow of his old persona after being forced to shed uniform.

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PTI | By, Islamabad

Eight years after he seized power in a bloodless coup, Pervez Musharraf, who assumed office as a civilian President of Pakistan on Thursday, looks a pale shadow of his old persona after being forced to shed uniform which he often described as his "second skin."

The 64-year old battle-tested former commando, who was re-elected in the October six Presidential poll boycotted by several Opposition parties, faces hostility from Islamic radicals for his crackdown on extremists and increasing domestic and western pressure to lift the hugely unpopular emergency rule which he imposed on November 3.

Musharraf, who quit as Army Chief on Wednesday by handing over the baton to his confidant Ashfaq Kiyani, said: "This army is my life, this army is my passion. I have loved this army."

Hailing the Pakistan Army as the best in the world, he said "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 as President remains supreme commander of the armed forces, which he headed for nine years since 1999, and will still have the power to dismiss an elected government. As head of the National Security Council, Musharraf will ensure that all stakeholders coordinate and continue to function within their given domains.

However, his problems will mount if the opposition parties are able to forge a united front against him.

In his memoirs, Musharraf recalls October 12, 1999, the day he took over as the Chief Executive, as the most memorable event in his life.

Born in the pre-partition Delhi on August 11, 1943 in an educated middle-class family, Musharraf began his military career by serving with an artillery regiment in 1964. He first saw action in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war in the Khem Karan, Lahore and Sialkot sectors and was awarded the Imtiaz-i-Sanad medal for gallantry.

In his chequered rule, Musharraf has survived three assassination attempts. "I call myself lucky," he says.

Known to be a tough soldier, Musharraf would often ask his men to lie close to railway tracks in the face of an oncoming train to test their nerves.

Musharraf rose through the ranks and became the Army Chief when Gen Jehangir Karamat resigned in 1998. Former Premier Nawaz Sharif had appointed Musharraf as Army Chief, superseding two senior military figures.

"My bluntness and indiscipline has landed me in many a serious trouble," says Musharraf, who joined the Pakistan Military Academy when he was 18 and became a commando in 1966.

Sharif's attempt on October 12, 1999 to sack Musharraf and install ISI head Khwaja Ziauddin as the Army Chief boomeranged. Musharraf was on a plane from Sri Lanka to Karachi when he learnt that Sharif had ordered the airport to be closed and that permission would not be given for his aircraft to land.

The plane landed with little fuel after army Generals backed Musharraf who ordered arrest of Sharif and became de-facto head of government using the title Chief Executive. Sharif was later exiled to Saudi Arabia along with his family.

Musharraf has since then gone from strength-to-strength tightening his grip over the power structure but events in the last nine months and pressure mounted by Sharif and former premier Benazir Bhutto, both of whom have returned from exile, have seen him going on the backfoot on several occasions.

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