"Jury out" on Musharraf uniform vow - Commonwealth

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 20 (Reuters) The Commonwealth appreciates Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's commitment to give up his post of army chief but is waiting to see that he follows through, the group's secretary general said today.

Musharraf said this week he would quit as army chief if re-elected president for another term by an electoral college of members of the national and provincial assemblies. The election will be on October 6, the Election Commission announced today.

Pakistani opposition parties have long demanded that US ally Musharraf give up command of the army. Some also want to see him prevented from seeking another term as president.

The Commonwealth of 53 mostly ex-British Empire countries suspended Pakistan's membership after General Musharraf mounted a bloodless coup in 1999 but readmitted it in 2004, citing progress in democratic reforms.

Musharraf reneged on a promise to quit his army post by the end of 2004. The Commonwealth has for years been telling him it was ''incompatible with the basic principles of democracy'' to be president and army chief at the same time.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said he had reiterated that when he met Musharraf yesterday. He also said he acknowledged and greatly appreciated Musharraf's promise to give up the army post.

''We appreciate what is happening in this direction, the commitments that have been made, but ultimately, the jury is out for a little while yet,'' McKinnon told a news conference.

McKinnon, who arrived yesterday for a three-day visit, noted that Musharraf faced legal challenges by opponents who wanted to block his attempt for a new term. General elections are due by mid-January.

''You're going into quite a difficult period ... The next four months are very critical to the future of Pakistan,'' he said.

The Commonwealth hoped the process would be worked out smoothly and generally with the support of the people, he said.

''We can certainly appreciate and acknowledge the long distance Pakistan has travelled since 1999 ... but we still have to be concerned about getting through a process which really begins almost immediately,'' he said.

In their talks yesterday, Musharraf stressed his ''firm resolve to hold free, fair and transparent elections'', the state news agency said. McKinnon also met Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and senior officials from Pakistan's two main opposition parties.

Musharraf was treated as a pariah by the West after his coup, but criticism of his rule became muted after he took on a front-line role in the US-led war on terrorism, launched after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

The Commonwealth represents 1.8 billion people and a fifth of global trade but it has no formal decision-making powers.

Reuters SKB GC1737

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