Associated Press

Davos, January 28:

Pakistan’s prime minister today said the “timer is ticking” on President Gen Pervez Musharraf’s dual reign as army chief and head of state, saying the military leader would take off his military uniform as promised in 2007. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Musharraf made the decision to renege on a promise to quit as army chief by the end of last year out of concern for stability, a desire to continue his programme of economic reform and to expand a crackdown on terrorism. But he acknowledged that the move was controversial, and that it exposed the weakness of Pakistani democracy. Aziz said Pakistani democracy is a work in progress, and that Musharraf had no alternative. “You could argue that if your democracy was more robust, you wouldn’t need that (a military president) ... but we didn’t want to take the chance,” Aziz told business leaders at a breakfast on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in this Swiss mountain village.

“This is a one time thing and there is a timer on it,” Aziz continued. “Our feeling is that 2007 will be here very quickly, and after that the dual office is legally not possible.” Musharraf’s five year term as president expires in 2007, and he has promised to relinquish his army post. He has not said whether he would run for another term as president. Many in Pakistan look to Musharraf’s assurances on leaving the army post with skepticism. The general had pushed through laws that outlawed his keeping both posts longer than December 31, 2004, but got his backers in the legislature to revise those at the last minute. Aziz said his nation welcomed peace with India, though he offered no new ideas for bringing forward peace talks that have sputtered in recent months.

He also gave assurances that Pakistan stands firmly against nuclear proliferation, despite a widening scandal over the activities of its chief nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who US officials claim ran a multibillion dollar nuclear blackmarket. “This was one individual, which could happen anywhere,” Aziz said. Aziz, a charismatic former Citibank vice president credited with spearheading a drive to salvage Pakistan’s economy, had a busy schedule at the Davos forum. His mission is to convince the world’s business elite that his country is a good place for investment, despite a perception that it is a haven for terrorists and rife with corruption.