ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf stepped down as the country's military leader Wednesday, the day before he was to be sworn in for a third presidential term -- as a civilian.
"This army is my life. This army is my passion. I have loved this army," an emotional Musharraf said in a farewell ceremony to the army at its HQ in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. "From tomorrow morning, this relationship will change, and I will be no more in uniform."
Clearly moved, Musharraf added that it was sad for him to leave, but that "this is the way of life, and life has to go on." During the ceremony he reviewed ranks of troops while a band played "Auld Lang Syne" in the background.
His retirement as general caps a 46-year career in the nation's armed forces and ends eight years of military rule.
The president has been under pressure to step down as military leader and end emergency rule, under which critics say he has consolidated power. During the past two days, he has made farewell visits to the army, air force and navy headquarters. Watch as he says good-bye to the army and the uniform »
Musharraf handed over the military chief's post to his chosen successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, who recently stepped down as head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency.
Arif Nizami, editor of the Pakistani daily, The Nation, has said that Kiyani is generally regarded as "in the same mold as General Musharraf."
"Musharraf has chosen a successor very carefully who will continue his policies and he will be as pro-western as General Musharraf is," Nizami told CNN International last month.
However, he pointed out that "once the army chief is there, he is his own man and you can't be 100 percent sure what kind of policies he'll pursue."
It was as Pakistan's army chief that Musharraf led the 1999 bloodless coup that overthrew his predecessor, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf had been reluctant to relinquish his army role because his power base resides in the military, not with the Pakistani people.
But quitting as military chief is unlikely to satisfy Pakistan's opposition, which is demanding he rescind emergency rule, imposed on November 3, amid claims that it prevents the possibility of free and fair elections.
Pervez Rasheed, spokesman for Sharif, said that "Musharraf hasn't taken off his uniform under his own will, rather under pressure from the powers who installed him and kept him in power eight long years," The Associated Press reported, in comments believed to refer to the United States.
And Mian Raza Rabbani, a senior figure in Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party, added that it was "too little, too late," reported the agency, adding that "doffing his uniform will in no way help him to consolidate his rule."
The opposition has threatened to boycott the national elections that will determine a prime minister, planned for January 8, to protest the emergency order.
Although Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League, filed his nomination paperwork to participate in the elections Monday, he could still boycott the vote, a party spokesman told CNN. Sharif has said he would refuse to participate if the state of emergency were still in effect.
He will meet with other opposition party leaders in the coming days to discuss forming a unified front against Musharraf's emergency rule.
Sharif returned to Pakistan Sunday, ending seven years of exile in Saudi Arabia. He had first returned in September, but Pakistani authorities deported him within hours of his arrival. E-mail to a friend
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