Musharraf Is Expected to Resign in Next Few Days
Musharraf Is Expected to Resign in Next Few Days
By JANE PERLEZ
Published: August 14, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Faced with desertions by his political supporters and the neutrality of the Pakistani military, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, an important ally of the United States, is expected to resign in the next few days rather than face impeachment charges, Pakistani politicians and Western diplomats said Thursday.
Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, addressed a gathering at an Independence Day ceremony in Islamabad on Aug. 13. Mr. Musharraf called for political reconciliation in Pakistan, in an apparent appeal to opponents who seeking his impeachment.
His departure from office would be likely to unleash new instability in the country as the two main parties in the civilian government jockeyed for the division of power.
The details of how Mr. Musharraf would exit, and whether he would be able to stay in Pakistan — apparently his strong preference — or would seek residency abroad were now under discussion, the politicians said.
Mr. Musharraf was expected to resign before the governing coalition presented charges for impeachment to the Parliament early next week, said Nisar Ali Khan, a senior official in the Pakistani Muslim League-N, the minority partner in the coalition government.
Similarly, Sheikh Mansoor Ahmed, a senior official of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the major party in the coalition, said Thursday that the president would probably leave in the “next 72 hours.”
Inexorable pressure has built on Mr. Musharraf, a member of the military by profession and often impetuous by nature, to take a way out from the current crisis that would save him from embarrassing disclosures during impeachment procedures and that would protect the nation from a prolonged political agony.
The United States and Britain sought last year to put a democratic face on the unpopular Mr. Musharraf — who was then also chief of the army — by engineering the return of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as his partner in a putative power-sharing arrangement. Now the two countries are virtual bystanders as Mr. Musharraf’s rule seems to be coming to an end.
Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in December, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, emerged as a major force urging Mr. Musharraf’s ouster last week. The two major political parties in the coalition said last week that they would seek to remove Mr. Musharraf, and that the grounds for impeachment included mismanagement of the economy, his imposition of emergency rule in November and the firing of nearly 60 judges.
The American ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, met with senior officials of the political parties seeking Mr. Musharraf’s ouster in the past few days, and a senior diplomat in the British Foreign Office, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, met with Mr. Musharraf here this week, Pakistani officials and a Western diplomat said.
The envoys did not argue against Mr. Musharraf’s departure but rather stressed that he should be granted as dignified an exit as possible, the Pakistani officials said. The officials and diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
“The United States is now accepting Musharraf’s removal as a fait accompli,” Mr. Khan said.
“They just want that he should not be humiliated. We don’t want his humiliation either.”
The Bush administration’s continued support of Mr. Musharraf, anchored by the personal relationship between the two presidents, has infuriated the four-month-old civilian coalition, which routed the president’s party in February elections. “Now the reaction from the American friends is positive,” Mr. Khan said.
While Mr. Bush has kept up his relationship with Mr. Musharraf — including regular telephone conversations — the administration has also been trying to build its relations with the new Pakistani government, as it demands greater action against militants based in Pakistan.
The coalition parties said that the impeachment charges would be presented to Parliament early next week, and that the charges would be far-ranging and touch on, among other things, Mr. Musharraf’s decision to suspend the Constitution last November and to introduce emergency rule.
The leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, Nawaz Sharif, has demanded that if Mr. Musharraf is impeached, a trial must follow, a proceeding that would be very messy, and could rip the country apart.
In his hour of need, as the politicians move against him, Mr. Musharraf has been greeted by silence from the military, his former power base.
As army chief of staff, Mr. Musharraf grabbed power in October 1999, overthrowing Mr. Sharif, who was then prime minister.
Mr. Sharif has maneuvered for Mr. Musharraf’s ouster since returning to power after the February elections.
As president and army chief, Mr. Musharraf worked hand in hand with the United States against terrorism until last November, when he handed the army post to Gen. Ashfaq Parvaz Kayani, who promised to keep the army out of politics.
Since assuming the army leadership, General Kayani has remained true to his promise.
The neutrality of the military has actually tipped the scales against Mr. Musharraf, said Arif Nizami, editor of the daily newspaper The Nation.
“They are not even putting pressure on the civilians” to stop the president’s ouster, Mr. Nizami said of the military. “They are saying, ‘If you do it according to the book, it’s none of our business.’ They have pushed against Mr. Musharraf.”
Mr. Musharraf gave a routine but subdued national day address on Wednesday, calling for reconciliation. But by then many of his supporters had left him. He was seeking solace from “only a handful of people,” most of whom harbored personal interests in Mr. Musharraf’s survival, according to an account in a national newspaper, Dawn, by Zaffar Abbas, a respected political journalist.
Many members of Mr. Musharraf’s political party have deserted him, although a powerful political group, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is based in Karachi, still supports him, Mr. Abbas wrote.
One prominent supporter, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, who served as the interior minister in Mr. Musharraf’s government, said Thursday that he could no longer justify his allegiance to the president.
Mr. Sherpao represents a parliamentary constituency in the North-West Frontier Province on the edge of the tribal area, where the Taliban are winning control of village after village with little opposition from the military or government forces.
After consulting “with every friend” in his area, “not a single person was in favor of Musharraf,” Mr. Sherpao said.
“With one voice they said: ‘This is the time you have to be with the democratic forces.’ ”
While it appeared almost certain that Mr. Musharraf would leave before facing impeachment, there was great uncertainty over what would follow.
“Everyone feels that the Musharraf era is over,” the Daily Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday. “But no one is actually in the mood to see what it is going to be like to be in the post-Musharraf era.”
Many Pakistanis believe the country could suffer even greater instability after Mr. Musharraf goes.
The coalition partnership between Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif became troubled by deep suspicions between the two sides soon after the February elections, and the current accord on ousting Mr. Musharraf is likely to fragment as soon as he is gone, politicians say.
There is little agreement, for example, between the two men on the choice of the next president. That question is a subject of almost as much jockeying within the coalition as the plan to get rid of Mr. Musharraf.
Mr. Zardari, a highly controversial figure in Pakistan who was jailed on corruption charges for more than eight years, would like the post, according to his party supporters and senior members of the Pakistan Muslim League-N. The charges against Mr. Zardari were dismissed as part of an amnesty agreement when Ms. Bhutto returned to Pakistan.
Mr. Sharif is opposed to Mr. Zardari’s ascendancy to the presidency, but would go along with it if the presidency were stripped of many of its current powers, Pakistan Muslim League-N officials said.
According to the Constitution, an election for the president by the national Parliament and four provincial assemblies must be held 30 days after the office becomes vacant. Mr. Sharif and Mr. Zardari agreed last week that the choice of a presidential nominee would be made by a consensus between them.
“We very, very strongly feel it has to be a man of national consensus, a man of stature, a man everyone looks up to as a head of state,” Mr. Khan said.
Salman Masood contributed reporting.