ISLAMABAD, Sept 16: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has said that President Pervez Musharraf's 'expected' decision to retain his army post beyond Dec 31 will be in the interest of the country's stability and solidarity.

Talking to newsmen after inaugurating the Burhan section of the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway on Thursday, he said: "There is no provision in the constitution that bars the president from retaining the office of COAS. Yet, we will go ahead and take whatever legal process required in this connection."

When asked if such a decision would not amount to going back on a commitment made by General Musharraf last year that he would definitely take off his uniform by Dec 31, 2004, Mr Aziz said: "No. The interests of the country are more important than anything else. We must support what is best and is in the interest of Pakistan and we must all welcome it."

He disagreed with a suggestion that the president's decision would cause political polarization as opposition parties had already threatened to launch a movement against it.

The premier said that people wanted to see a prosperous and progressive Pakistan which was also the objective of his government and added that people would welcome such steps which were in the interest of economic stability.

Asked whether the president had made up his mind on retaining both offices, he said: "You better ask the president." When asked when would the government move a bill in parliament to give constitutional cover to the president to retain the two offices, the prime minister said there would be progress in this connection soon and "we will let you know about that in due course of time".

He rejected apprehensions that continuation of a uniformed president would give the impression to the world that the army continued to control the democratic order.

"There will be nothing of the sort. In my opinion it will be a good step keeping in view the conditions in which Pakistan is placed and seeing the situation prevailing in the region as well as the challenges we are faced with".

Answering another question, Mr Aziz said: "A final announcement will obviously be made by General Musharraf himself." He said Pakistan had to move ahead and undertake forward-looking policies for its strength which would ultimately be the strength of the entire Ummah.