Musharraf announces his resignation

Posted in Pakistan | 18-Aug-08 | Author: Jane Perlez| Source: International Herald Tribune

Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, speaking during a news conference broadcast live to the nation on Monday.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Under pressure over impending impeachment charges, President Pervez Musharraf announced he would resign Monday, ending nearly nine years as the head of one of the United States' most important allies in the campaign against terrorism.

Speaking on television from his presidential office here at 1 p.m., Musharraf, dressed in a gray suit and tie, said that after consulting with his aides, "I have decided to resign today." He said he was putting national interest above "personal bravado."

"Whether I win or lose the impeachment, the nation will lose," he said, adding that he was not prepared to put the office of the presidency through the impeachment process.

Musharraf said the governing coalition, which has pushed for impeachment, had tried to "turn lies into truths."

"They don't realize they can succeed against me but the country will undergo irreparable damage."

In an emotional ending to a speech lasting more than an hour, Musharraf raised his clenched fists to chest height, and said, "Long live Pakistan!"

His resignation came after 10 days of intense political maneuvering in Pakistan, and cleared the way for the four-month-old coalition government to choose a new president by a vote of the Parliament and provincial assemblies. But there were intense concerns in Washington that Musharraf's departure would open a new era of instability in the nuclear-armed country of 165 million people, as the fragile coalition jockeys for his share of power.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to stresss continuity with the new leaders of Pakistan on Monday, saying the United States would keep pressing the Pakistani government to battle extremism within its borders. She also thanked Musharraf for his efforts against terrorism.

Musharraf, 65, will stay in Pakistan in the immediate future, a request he had insisted on, according to Nasir Ali Khan, a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, a partner in the coalition. The coalition, led by Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and Nawaz Sharif, the chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, were scheduled to meet here in the capital Monday afternoon to discuss the way forward, Khan said.

There were few indications of who the next president would be. According to the Constitution, a new president must be chosen within 30 days. American officials have said that Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was assassinated in December, would like the post. But Sharif, who maintains a barely civil relationship with Zardari, is strongly opposed to the elevation of Zardari.

Musharraf has been under strong pressure in the past few days, as the coalition said it had completed a charge sheet to take to Parliament for his impeachment. The charges were centered on "gross violations" of the Constitution, according to the minister of information, Sherry Rehman.

The rhetoric from the coalition mounted over the weekend, but the leading politicians wavered on an exact date for bringing the charges, thus leaving a window for Musharraf to leave.

In his speech, Musharraf tore into the coalition for what he called their failed economic policies. He said Pakistan's critical economic situation ? a declining currency, capital flight, soaring inflation ? was their responsibility. In contrast, he said, his policies had brought prosperity out of near economic collapse when he took charge in 1999.

He then gave a laundry list of his achievements, ranging from expanded road networks to a national art gallery in the capital. Although Pakistan's literacy rate hovers around 50 percent, and is much lower among women, he took credit for new schools.

The army, the most powerful institution in Pakistan, stayed publicly above the fray in the past 10 days. But in remaining studiously neutral and declining to come to Musharraf's rescue, the new leader of the army, General Ashfaq Parvaz Kayani, tipped the scales against the president, politicians said.

Musharraf grabbed power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the man who had picked Musharraf as army chief. For eight years, he ruled as head of the army and president, positions that gave him almost unfettered power and allowed the Bush administration to rely on Musharraf in the campaign on terrorism.

In recognition of this, Rice described him Monday as "one of the world's most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism.""We will continue to work with the Pakistani government and political leaders and urge them to redouble their focus on Pakistan's future and its most urgent needs, including stemming the growth of extremism, addressing food and energy shortages, and improving economic stability," Rice said in a statement. "The United States will help with these efforts to see Pakistan reach its goal of becoming a stable, prosperous, democratic, modern, Muslim nation."

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, government officials expressed satisfaction that Musharraf was leaving. The relationship between the neighboring countries has long been tense, with Afghan officials blaming increasing violence there on Pakistan's failure to crack down on militants in the border region. An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, Zemeri Bashary, said on Monday that Musharraf had been an ally of the United States "in words only, not by actions" and argued that his rule had not been good for Afghanistan, The Associated Press reported. Also, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sultan Ahmed Baheen, said Afghanistan hoped the resignation would strengthen democracy in both countries, The A.P. said.

As Musharraf began to lose popularity last year, Washington tried to forge a power-sharing relationship between him and Bhutto, who had been in exile since the late 1990s and returned to Pakistan last fall. She was assassinated Dec. 27.

The Musharraf government accused the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud of her murder. By then Sharif had also returned from exile to run in elections. The Pakistan Peoples Party of Bhutto, under the stewardship of her husband, Zardari, and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, under Sharif, swept into power in elections in February.

Musharraf leaves office as the Taliban insurgency in the tribal areas has taken on renewed vigor in the past week, prompting civilians to leave their homes there, and pitting the paramilitary Frontier Corps, directed by the army, directly against the insurgents.