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ISLAMABAD, Nov 28: Gen Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday handed over the command of the army to the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, fulfilling a promise many people had doubted he would keep.

He passed the baton of command to Gen Ashfaq Kayani at a ceremony held in the Army Hockey Stadium, close to the General Headquarters (GHQ).

“Although I would not be in uniform tomorrow, my heart will continue to beat it as it has been my family since I joined it at the age of 18. It is a sad moment for me to bid farewell to the army after serving it for 46 years. This is life and every good thing has to come to an end,” a tearful Gen Musharraf told the army top brass and government leaders at the first-ever public ceremony organised here for the change of command.

Gen Musharraf paid tribute to Gen Kayani, the former chief of ISI, saying he had known him since he was a colonel.

He thanked the army for the confidence it reposed in him and the loyalty it showed to him.

On Thursday, Gen Musharraf will be sworn in as a civilian president. Chief Justice of Pakistan Abdul Hameed Dogar will administer the oath at Aiwan-i-Sadr. In the evening, the president will address the nation on radio and television and is expected to announce the lifting of the state of emergency. The president said army was his life and passion and he served it with honour and dignity, adding that army had given him love and affection which he would never forget.

The entire area around the venue of the ceremony was blocked off with military and police personnel deployed in the area. Except for the invitees, no one was allowed to move into the area.

The president said he was handing over the command to Gen Kayani who was an excellent soldier. He said he was confident that the new chief would take the army to new heights in professional terms.

He prayed to Almighty Allah to guide the new army chief in commanding one of the most professional armies in the world and achieving new professional excellence.

Gen Musharraf said he was leaving the army in the best state of preparedness and armed with state of the art weapon systems.

Pakistan Army, he said, was one of the best professional forces in the world and hoped that it would continue to excel in future as well.

He commended the role of the army in overcoming external and internal threats to the country and maintaining peace and security.

The army, he said, had always risen to the occasion in difficult times, natural calamity like the recent earthquake, floods and internal and external security threats to the country.

He praised the role of the army in the development of the country’s infrastructure and said that it would continue to achieve this task in future. The president said it was unfortunate that some misguided elements pointed fingers at the army and criticised it.

He said the army had been stretched too much as it was performing its duties in Siachen and Kashmir and was deployed in Fata to fight terrorists and extremists, besides ensuring peace and security in Balochistan.

The change of command ceremony was attended by caretaker Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro, federal ministers, the three services chiefs, diplomats and senior serving and retired officers.

The ceremony included a parade by a contingent of the Pakistan Army.

The president reviewed a guard of honour and took salute. On his arrival at the parade ground, he was received by Gen Kayani.

CORPS COMMANDERS’ MEETING: Before the ceremony, Gen Musharraf presided over a meeting of corps commanders, his last as the army chief, and thanked them for their support during his tenure as the Chief of the Army Staff.

He praised the army for countering the threats of extremism and terrorism and for rendering great sacrifices for the country. He said the army was engaged in the national effort to defeat extremism and terrorism which were the biggest threats to the country.

“I salute all ranks of the army who sacrificed their lives for the country. The nation must acknowledge their sacrifices,” he said.Recounting his last nine years as the COAS, Gen Musharraf said the country had progressed well since 1999 and there had been a quantum leap in all fields from industry to agriculture and from infrastructural development to telecom sector.

He said he was leaving the office as a satisfied man.

“This is the highest decision making forum for the Pakistan Army and I always received valuable input from it,” the general said.

Praising Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for his professionalism and qualities of heart and mind, the president wished him success in his new appointment. At the end Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani presented a souvenir to President Musharraf.

Before departing the General Headquarters, the president shook hands with the General Officers who bid him farewell.