Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief will ask President Pervez Musharraf to resign from office within a week, a senior government official claimed today.
The claim was supported by a former military aide to the president who said that the army’s leadership wished Mr Musharraf to be spared the humiliation of impeachment.
The civilian government intensified an attritional, seven-month long power struggle with the presidency when it announced earlier this week that it is to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Musharraf on Monday.
The twin arbiters of power in Pakistan, the army chief of staff, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, and America, which has provided dollars 12 billion in military aid to the country in the last six years, have publicly declared themselves to be neutral on Pakistan’s domestic politics.
However a senior official from the ruling government coalition partner, the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) said that the army has “whispered in Musharraf’s ear that it is time to leave”.
“Over the next few days they will make it clear to him [Musharraf] that a protracted battle [against impeachment] is not in Pakistan’s interests,” he added.
Yesterday Pakistan’s political class had an ear strenuously cocked for hints as to which way the army will move as Gen Kiyani spent a second day in conference with his senior commanders.
The former military aide to Mr Musharraf said: “The army is neutral but is expecting him to resign. It will then influence his honourable safe passage as the army’s senior leadership would not want him to be punished”.
The PPP government official said that his party had given an assurance of “indemnity” to the president.
The official, who has top-level contacts with Washington, said that his party had instigated the impeachment because Mr Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terror, had begun to use intelligence agencies to plot against the government.
He alleged that Mr Musharraf had tried to use a former PPP leader, Amin Fahim, to “instigate a rebellion within the party”.
“Washington was still hoping that the PPP would work with Musharraf, but he was not working with us,” he said.
“America wants Pakistan to be effectively governed and so has realised that the domestic struggle has to be resolved”, he added.
Mr Musharraf’s future remained opaque as it is dependant on the unpredictable brinkmanship of Pakistani politics.
His allies said yesterday that he will defend himself against impeachment, if necessary by dissolving parliament and thereby risking that the volatile country be further mired in turmoil.
Shujaat Hussain, the head of Mr Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), which lost elections in February, said that dissolving parliament would be ” unfortunate” but it may be “necessary”.
He told The Daily Telegraph that he had evidence that the move to impeach the president was made after the usually bickering coalition partners had struck a deal to hand the presidency to Asif Zardari, the PPP leader and widower of the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.
Mr Hussain said that presidential candidacy of Mr Zardari, who was granted an amnesty by Mr Musharraf absolving him of corruption charges involving hundreds of millions of dollars, would be opposed by the army.
“I have no knowledge of that but Pakistan would be better served by a civilian president with a knowledge of democracy,” a PPP spokesman said of Mr Zardari’s alleged presidential bid.
Provincial assemblies will first be called on to pass resolutions demanding that Musharraf seek a vote of confidence from Parliament, which would show whether he has the support of lawmakers elected in February.
- The coalition is currently several seats short of the 295 votes it requires out of the 439 in the Senate and National Assembly to remove Musharraf.
- Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz, together with smaller coalition partners, have 266 seats and need a further 29 MPs on side, likely to be from the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
- The party of ex-Premier Nawaz Sharif said Friday it is rejoining the Cabinet, a gesture of solidarity now that the coalition partners have agreed to seek President Pervez Musharraf’s impeachment.
- A poll by the International Republican Institute in June showed that 85 percent of Pakistanis believed that the president should resign.