Musharraf to Deliver Important Speech

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) is planning an important speech to the nation, a senior official said Wednesday, amid speculation he will explain his decided to renege on a promise to step down as army chief by the end of the year.

Musharraf was set to make the address on radio and television Thursday, the senior government official said on condition of anonymity. He would not say what the speech was to be about.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, pledged last December to leave his job as army chief and become a civilian head of state by the end of 2004.

But in recent weeks Musharraf has said he will go back on his promise.

In an interview with a Pakistani television channel earlier this month, Musharraf said he planned to explain to the people why he has changed his mind.

"I will remain in uniform," Musharraf said in a Dec. 17 interview with Pakistan's Kawish Television Network. "I will speak to the nation in a few days and tell them some reasons, and tell them the truth."

Loyalist lawmakers from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party, which has a majority in Parliament, passed a law earlier this month that allows Musharraf to remain as president and army chief through 2007.

Musharraf's change of heart has angered a vocal religious political coalition, with which Musharraf had made the promise to shed his military uniform.

The six-party alliance has said it will launch a new round of protests to pressure Musharraf to honor his pledge.

Musharraf, a key ally of the United States in its war against terrorism, defends his decision by saying it will ensure stability in government policies including the support to the anti-terrorism campaign.

On Wednesday, Musharraf's ally and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz met with Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman, a top leader of the coalition, in a bid to stop it from launching street protests against the president.

But, Rahman refused to give Musharraf "any relaxation," and insisted he must honor his promise. "Musharraf has still two days to step down as the army chief," he said.

However, Aziz told reporters that he was "optimistic about reaching understanding with the opposition" on the issue. "I am optimistic that opposition will help us in creating better a political atmosphere in the country."