ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, threatened by possible impeachment, is reconciled to stepping down before he is hounded out of office, according to a senior adviser to the new government.
U.S. ally Musharraf, who came to power as a general after a coup in 1999, has probably got a matter of weeks, at most a few months, before the curtain falls, political insiders say.
“He is prepared to go and go with dignity,” said the source close to the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which heads the 2-month-old coalition government.
“We will try to make it very dignified,” the PPP source said, adding it was politically difficult to be seen helping the disliked president as such a stance risked losing popular support.
Although Musharraf has been a staunch ally in the U.S.-led “war on terror” and launched a peace initiative with India, his exit is unlikely to disturb either so long as Pakistan stabilizes.
The United States has good communications with Musharraf’s successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the PPP-led government is following through on the peace process.
Foreign allies, including both the United States and Saudi Arabia, are pressing for a transition to civilian-led democracy which avoids further upheaval in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half the country’s history since it was carved out of British-ruled India in 1947.
In the post-Musharraf era Pakistan faces challenges beyond the constant threat from Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The new government is grappling with a deteriorating macro-economic situation, and the stock market and rupee have fallen sharply in recent weeks.
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, the widower and political successor of the late Benazir Bhutto, has proposed a constitutional package that would strip Musharraf of power, but possibly afford him legal protection from foes who want to see him humiliated.
The PPP hopes to buy time to settle terms for the president’s departure and steal the thunder from coalition partner Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew. Sharif wants his usurper impeached or tried for treason.
Officials say Musharraf wants indemnity for his actions on November 3, when he suspended the constitution and imposed emergency rule to purge the judiciary before it could rule illegal his re-election the previous month while still army chief.
LOTS OF PRESSURE, LITTLE SUPPORT
Some segments of the media have intensified calls for Musharraf to resign, and a lawyers movement that sprang up last year in defense of the judiciary plans a mass protest on June 10, the same day the government is due to present its budget.
Independent analyst Nasim Zehra saw few options left for Musharraf.
“I think he has no cards left,” she said. “General Musharraf may be compelled to think of resigning sooner rather than later.”
A general election on February 18 swept away Musharraf’s parliamentary support and resulted in an uneasy alliance between Zardari and Sharif.
To add to Musharraf’s sense of isolation, retired generals, including some who served under him, have publicly criticized him and called for him to go.
Under Kayani the army has adopted a more constitutional role, though it won’t want its former chief humiliated.
The United States has told the new government it wouldn’t want to see Musharraf dragged through the courts, as he has been a staunch ally and survived several al Qaeda-inspired assassination attempts.
Beyond that, Washington has given assurances it will not play any role in Pakistan’s internal affairs, the adviser to the PPP leadership said.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has asked Sharif to let Musharraf leave peacefully without pressing too hard for him to be put on trial, according to Pakistani officials.
Last November, the Saudi monarch pressured Musharraf into letting Sharif return from exile in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
Before leaving for London on Tuesday, Sharif again called for Musharraf to be put on trial for treason or impeached.
The country has been dogged by political instability since March 2007, when Musharraf galvanized a moribund opposition by starting a fight with the judiciary that resulted in him purging the judges when he imposed emergency rule.
Sharif pulled his ministers out of the PPP-led government last month after Zardari delayed reinstating the judges.