The military was at the helm for close on 30 years-half of the 60 years of independence.
A military coup brought General Pervez Musharraf to power in 1999. Now, a domestic political crisis has forced him to retire at the age of 64 and give up his army commander's ceremonial baton. Now, he can stay the civilian president for another five years.
Musharraf's presidential term expires in 2012. Experts are skeptical about his future without a general's uniform, which he called his second skin. He will retain influence on the army and secret services, but it will inevitably decline over time and rob him of authority. Anyway, he will lose part of his influence on Pakistani developments without command of the army.
He faces an even worse danger than opposition pressure-Al-Qaida is hunting him. No other Pakistani leader has more effective and numerous bodyguards; he survived two assassination attempts in 2003, both tracked back to Al-Qaida.
After 9/11, he turned away from the Taliban in Afghanistan and joined the U.S. war on terror, securing American support for his country.
By retiring from the army, he certainly hoped to take the edge off a political crisis that had been raging for months on end. Driven into a corner, he introduced martial law on November 3-an unpopular move, which makes his critics reproach him for a lack of common sense that goes together with excessive imagination.
Pakistani political experts say Musharraf imposes his rule on the nation instead of joining hands with lawyers and political and human rights activists who share his determination to combat Muslim extremism. Worse than that, the state of emergency has put prominent lawyers, among them Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, under restriction. So community activists are set against the president and can soon renew their campaign against him.
Musharraf gave command over the army to a younger comrade-in-arms, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, 55, former Inter-Services Intelligence chief. He will certainly remain the United States' ally in the fight against terrorism. It is not so certain whether he will share Musharraf's political stance.
A former infantry commander, Kayani was educated at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Western military experts regard him as one of the most brilliant Pakistani officers. He faces a hard task restoring the nation's confidence in an army that has become very unpopular under Musharraf. From the heart of Pakistani policy, it must again become a defensive force. Kayani will hardly interfere in politics to save his predecessor's face. The unrest will move him to make independent decisions.
"A nation that has often literally eaten grass to keep its armed forces well-fed and well-armed can only hope that the new full-time chief lives up to his billing as a professional soldier who is not distracted by the razzle-dazzle of the world of politics," the Pakistani newspaper Dawn says in an editorial on November 29.
As for Musharraf's future, he will clash with formidable political opponents in a campaign preceding a parliamentary election he has set for January 8. Former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are back from exile, and both have a chance to lead the next cabinet and fight for power with the president. The United States is uneasy about the future of the anti-terrorist campaign, and that is why it supported Musharraf for so long.
Pakistan now depends on the next government, while Musharraf's political career is almost certainly doomed.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.