Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's sad when Pakistan's government has more credibility and legitimacy than the US's

Pakistan coalition gives two-day Musharraf ultimatum

ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistan's ruling coalition tightened the screw on President Pervez Musharraf Sunday, saying it would launch impeachment proceedings within two days if the key US ally does not stand down.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told AFP that "the charge sheet will be presented in parliament by Tuesday", as coalition officials put the finishing touches to the list of allegations against him.

His comment came a day after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the former general had to make a decision on resigning to avoid being impeached "by today or tomorrow, as there is no room for any delay".

A spokesman for Musharraf -- who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 and went on to become a lynchpin in the US-led "war on terror" -- has repeatedly denied that the president is going to resign.

But Musharraf's allies and coalition officials have said separately that his aides are in talks with the government in a bid to secure him an indemnity from prosecution if he does throw in the towel.

Saudi Arabia and, reportedly, the United States and Britain, have sent envoys in a bid to resolve the crisis in the nuclear-armed nation, which is also suffering from a severe economic crunch.

A coalition source said fresh discussions were under way Sunday.

"The emissaries of Musharraf are still in contact with the government and as far as we know, Musharraf's aides are advising him either to resign seeking an assurance for indemnity or try the Supreme Court," the source told AFP.

Local newspapers said Musharraf was consulting his personal legal advisers over the possibility of challenging any impeachment move in the country's Supreme Court.

With Pakistan's powerful army taking a neutral stance towards its former chief, the court is the only institution Musharraf can still count on, as he purged it of opponents during a state of emergency last November.

The talks on getting immunity for Musharraf have also been hampered by the opposition of former premier Nawaz Sharif, who leads the second biggest group in the coalition after the Pakistan People's Party of Benazir Bhutto.

A spokesman for Sharif's party, Siddiqul Farooq, said that coalition partners and constitutional experts were gathering in Islamabad on Sunday to give the charge sheet "final shape".

No president has ever been impeached in Pakistan's 61-year history.

The army's stance is still unclear and analysts say it could react badly to seeing its former leader humiliated by impeachment. Musharraf quit as army chief in November last year under international pressure.

The coalition is counting on independent MPs and defectors from Musharraf's camp to win the two-thirds combined majority it would need in the upper and lower houses of parliament to impeach him.

Musharraf's other courses of action -- either dissolving the national assembly or imposing another state of emergency -- are fraught with risk.

The White House has also struck a neutral tone on a man long regarded as a key ally in the US-led "war on terror", saying that the impeachment threat was an internal matter.

Western allies want Pakistan to resolve the impasse so it can deal with the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where nearly 500 people have died in the past week.

Dozens of Islamic hardliners protested against Musharraf in the central city of Multan on Sunday, witnesses said.

Musharraf's popularity first slumped after he tried to sack the country's chief justice in March 2007.

His Supreme Court purge in November allowed him to force through his re-election to another five-year term by the outgoing parliament, but his political allies were then trounced in elections in February.

Original article posted here

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