NEW YORK, Sept 24: US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Friday that the question of President Pervez Musharraf's stepping down as military chief was 'complex', although Washington wanted the country to move towards full democracy.

Mr Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, is under pressure to keep his promise he made last December to leave the army as part of a deal with opposition lawmakers that would allow him to remain president through 2007.

But the general indicated recently that he might renege on his pledge and remain as army chief because his leadership was still required to deal with several key outstanding issues, including fighting terrorism.

"There are critics that say he should be doing more or taking other steps right now, today, with respect to his own status," Mr Powell said. "We are in the closest touch with President Musharraf, we talk to him on a regular basis. He knows we believe it is in the interest of the Pakistani people to continue to move down a path toward full democracy," Mr Powell told reporters at a New York's hotel. "But these are complex issues and we want to be good partners," he said. Mr Powell recalled steps Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war against terrorism, had taken over the last three years to embrace democratic and other reforms.

"Three years ago this month, Pakistan was certainly tolerating if not directly supporting in many ways the Taliban," he said. "We had a very strained, difficult relationship with Pakistan and in a bold, strategic move, President Musharraf decided, in a phone call I will never forget on about the 13th or 14th on September (2001), that he would move Pakistan in an entirely new direction. "And he has done that," Mr Powell said, citing Musharraf's efforts to fix Pakistan's education, social, economic and security problems, including nuclear proliferation.

Mr Powell also noted Musharraf's moves empowering a prime minister and getting a functional parliament. He said there were "other steps that I know he will be taking in the days and months ahead". -AFP

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