Pakistan: Musharraf balks at plan for ‘graceful exit’ before impeachment

Negotiations between the Pakistani government and President Pervez Musharraf, aimed at securing his exit from office before impeachment, are stalling with only days left before proceedings begin in parliament.

The coalition government had hoped to pressure the president to quit, before the messy and possibly dangerous impeachment process formally starts. US and British diplomats have also tried to mediate a compromise to allow Musharraf to “exit gracefully”.

Once a motion is moved in parliament, which is scheduled for early next week, it will be difficult for the administration to let him go. But he is refusing to go down without a fight. He insists that he be given indemnity from any future prosecution and that he will live in Pakistan – terms the government will not meet. While an exit deal is still the most likely outcome, negotiations are going down to the wire.

“We’re hitting a wall now and we’re so close [to impeachment proceedings],” said one senior member of the coalition. “It’s this commando thing of his. His living here would be like a red rag to a bull. He wants to be photographed playing golf and taking it easy.”

The coalition wants Musharraf to leave Pakistan, for at least a year or two, until emotions cool down. In particular, Nawaz Sharif, a coalition leader who was thrown out of office in the coup staged by Musharraf in 1999, would find it personally and politically difficult to have the president in the country, safe from prosecution. The president’s house, which is still under construction, is located just outside Islamabad, so he would be a constant presence.

“Basically, Musharraf is being stubborn; the two sides are playing brinkmanship,” said Najam Sethi, editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper. “Nawaz Sharif is sitting there, sharpening his knife.”

Musharraf has offered to leave Pakistan for some time, but only after three to six months. He is adamant that, unlike Sharif and the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he will not be seen to be fleeing the country as soon as he is out of office.

Musharraf’s legal adviser, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, went on a national television programme to suggest that the impeachment proceedings would drag on for months.

“The president has all the options, constitutional and political,” said Pirzada. “All institutions will be seriously damaged [by impeachment], perhaps beyond repair.”

The president’s aides boasted that he would defend himself in the proceedings, not resign. Sharif appears keen to humiliate the president but the prospect of a prolonged trial is what the senior member of the coalition, the Pakistan People’s party, wants to avoid.

The army, Pakistan’s most powerful institution, has said that it would now stay out of politics but it is likely to be appalled by the impeachment proceedings against a former army chief.

“He [Musharraf] may think it is better to go down as president and hope the army bails him out,” said Ikram Sehgal, a political analyst and friend of the president. “This situation is shot with a lot of danger.”

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