President Pervez Musharraf was inaugurated today as a civilian president, as aides signaled that a date for ending a nearly month-old emergency decree could be announced later in the day.
Clad in a dark tunic and looking somber, Musharraf was sworn in by Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar before a handpicked crowd of dignitaries. Musharraf had appointed Dogar to replace the chief justice the Pakistani leader fired when he declared emergency rule Nov. 3.
Musharraf's inauguration to a new five-year presidential term is a purposeful display of what he and his allies say has been a long-intended transition to civilian rule. He had been serving as both president and chief of the military for nearly 6 1/2 years in the wake of a 1999 coup, resigning the army post only Wednesday.
Opponents, though, consider Musharraf's new term to be tainted by the fact that he was military ruler when lawmakers reelected him last month, and by the fact that the balloting was endorsed by a new Supreme Court packed with loyalists.
Two senior Pakistani officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said language on lifting the state of emergency had been incorporated into the text of a speech Musharraf is to deliver to the nation today, hours after the inaugural ceremony.
Dawn News, the country's main English-language news channel, said the state of emergency could end in the next 48 hours.
The Pakistani leader, however, often instructs his senior lieutenants to circulate word of planned actions well before he intends to carry them out.
Before Musharraf stepped down as military chief of staff, fulfilling a long-standing pledge, target dates were repeatedly announced and then ignored.
In Washington, President Bush praised Musharraf's decision but called on him to end emergency rule before Pakistan holds parliamentary elections in January.
"He told me he would take off his uniform, and I appreciate that, that he kept his word," Bush told CNN. "In my judgment, in order to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy, he's got to suspend the emergency law before elections."
Even if an end to the emergency decree is announced, opponents doubt that Musharraf will reverse what has emerged as the centerpiece of the decree: his firing of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and other high court justices and senior judges. The Pakistani leader has repeatedly ruled out their reinstatement.
Some other provisions of the decree have already been eased. The government says all but a few dozen opposition activists rounded up in the wake of the emergency declaration have been freed; human rights groups say they cannot verify that claim.
Most independent news channels are back on the air after being silenced in the early days of the decree, but some restrictions remain in place.
The way for Musharraf's swearing-in as civilian president was cleared when he stepped down as army chief in a ceremony redolent with colonial-era military tradition. As senior military commanders and members of his caretaker government looked on, Musharraf passed a ceremonial baton to Gen. Ashfaq Kiani, the former spy chief he anointed as his successor.
Western military officials consider Kiani, 55, to be a professional military man who may turn his attention more fully than Musharraf did to reining in Islamic insurgents in the tribal borderlands. They also believe he is eager to disentangle the army from politics.
The parties of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf's main opponents, welcomed his relinquishing of his army role, while saying the move should have come sooner.
Bhutto, speaking to journalists in her home base of Karachi, called the end of Musharraf's military tenure a "pleasing moment" in the country's history.
Analysts generally agree that Musharraf's power will be diluted by the transfer of leadership of the army, though the emergency decree temporarily bolsters his authority.
Few believe, though, that the military is likely to make any overt move against him, at least in the near term.
"The Pakistan army sees him as a man they feel comfortable with, a man they can trust," said security analyst Nasim Zehra. "And so unless major political upheavals take place, I don't think his life in the Pakistan power scene is over."
But Musharraf's prospects for long-term political survival are doubted by many.
A year ago, stepping down as military chief "would have been a sign of strength," said Teresita Schaffer, the South Asia director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
She and others said that by waiting until now to give up his military role, Musharraf forfeited any chance to appear statesmanlike, and also succeeded in galvanizing his many foes.
"He's sitting on a tinderbox," Schaffer said.