Exit Musharraf?


Pakistan’s president will resign and leave the country

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is expected to resign Monday and fly into exile in Saudi Arabia, where he is to remain for the next three months, a former aide to the president has told NEWSWEEK on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The aide added that the news had been relayed to the nation’s top military brass, including its powerful corps commanders. Though a current aide to Musharraf confirms that the president will resign, officially, Musharraf’s camp denies the story. “Your source is a liar,” retired Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a presidential spokesman, told NEWSWEEK when asked about the president’s resignation and possible flight into exile. “The information you have is absolutely untrue.”

The 65-year-old Musharraf, who has ruled the country of 170 million with an authoritarian hand for nearly nine years, may be seeking to avoid a humiliating impeachment trial before a largely hostile parliament and to protect himself from possible criminal prosecution. Still, the exit of Washington’s one-time point man in the war on terror is unlikely to solve Pakistan‘s myriad ills, including economic and political instability, government paralysis and an increasingly aggressive Islamic insurgency along the frontier with Afghanistan. It could even add to Pakistan’s volatility, as the president’s main nemeses and ruling coalition partners, Pakistani People’s Party co-chairmen Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, begin to jockey for position to fill a power vacuum created by Musharraf’s departure.

Though his resignation had been expected for days, a move to flee the country is a surprise since Musharraf and his chief allies have said he would fight impeachment and remain in Pakistan. At a gathering at the presidential palace in Islamabad on Wednesday, the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, the president may have foreshadowed his decision in a speech to his guests. He tried to put the best face on his worsening predicament, calling for reconciliation among the country’s political forces as the only way that Pakistan could face its many challenges. But according to NEWSWEEK sources, in private conversations that night Musharraf agreed with several close friends that his resignation was his only viable option, and that fighting impeachment proceedings in parliament would only deepen and prolong the country’s political agony.

One sticking point has been Sharif’s insistence that following impeachment the president should be tried for treason, just as Sharif was soon after he was deposed by Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999. Sharif was convicted in 2000 and given two life sentences. The Saudis intervened, allowing him to go into exile in the kingdom.

To avoid impeachment on charges of gross misconduct while in office and of violating the constitution on at least two occasions—first when he launched the 1999 coup and again when he imposed a state of emergency last November—and to avoid possible criminal proceedings, Musharraf is apparently trying to use his resignation as a tool to negotiate a soft landing. Ever since Zardari and Sharif decided to pursue impeachment proceedings against him earlier this month, the president’s men have been wrangling with the coalition, the army and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia for his safe passage out of power and perhaps out of the country. Last week Saudi intelligence chief Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Pakistan to ensure an “amicable resolution” to the crisis, as he put it. In return for his stepping down before impeachment proceedings began, NEWSWEEK sources say Musharraf asked for guarantees for his personal safety, for immunity from prosecution and that he be treated with the respect due a former president.


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