Pervez Musharraf has announced his resignation as the President of Pakistan while attacking the government’s plan to impeach him.
By Jon Swaine
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has announced his resignation. ;
“After consultations with legal advisers and close political supporters and on their advice, I’m taking the decision of resigning,” Mr Musharraf said, in a lengthy televised address to the nation. “My resignation will go to the speaker of the National Assembly today. I leave my future in the hands of people.”
Mr Musharraf was facing impeachment charges instigated by the coalition government, led by the party of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December, over alleged violation of the constitution and gross misconduct.
The President, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999 as head of the army, insisted that the charges his accusers were planning to level against him would not have been proved.
“Not a single charge in the impeachment can stand against me,” he said. “No charge can be proved against me because I never did anything for myself, it was all for Pakistan. Unfortunately, some elements acting for vested interests levelled false allegations against me and deceived people.”
It has emerged that officials from Saudi Arabia, the US and Britain have been negotiating indemnity for Mr Musharraf in return for his swift departure.
Mr Musharraf provoked public riots last November when he sacked the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, and about 60 other judges in an attempt to put down dissent from the legal establishment.
The move backfired, leading to Mr Musharraf declaring a state of emergency and forcing his re-election to another five-year presidential term through the Supreme Court. However he bolstered the position of his political opponents, a coalition of whom, led by the late Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), then beat his party in a parliamentary election in February.
The President, who has been a close partner of the US in their attempts to curb terrorism in the Middle East, stepped down as head of the army after his party’s electoral defeat, but continued to struggle to placate his critics as a civilian leader.
However in his resignation speech he robustly defended his record. “People have said my policies that during the last nine years our economic problems and electricity shortages were due to our policies. It is absolutely wrong and deception for the country over the past nine years have been wrong – they were wrong,” he said. “My critics must not make things worse for Pakistan.”
“On the map of the world, Pakistan is now an important country, by the grace of Allah,” he said.
Mr Musharraf insisted he had always led the country in “good faith,” especially in the face of economic problems and the threat of Islamic militancy. “Pakistan first has been my philosophy,” he said.
Pakistan’s powerful army, which has ruled the country for more than half its 61-year history, has kept out of the public controversy over its old chief.
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said on Sunday that Mr Musharraf had been a “good ally”, but she declined to say whether he would qualify for US asylum if he stepped down. “This is an issue that is not on the table,” Miss Rice said.
One of the favourites to replace Mr Musharraf as president is Asif Zardari, the co-chairman of the PPP and widower of the late Ms Bhutto. If he chooses to stand, he will face an election with any other candidates within 30 days, according to the constitution.
He is likely to face competition from Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister, whose Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party has acted in an anti-Musharraf coalition with the PPP this year despite a long-standing rivalry between the two. Pakistani commentators have also speculated that Asfandyar Wali Khan, an ethnic Pashtun leader whose liberal Awami National Party is also part of the coalition government, might get the job.
The election will be decided by an electoral college comprising members of both houses of parliament and the four provincial assemblies. In the interim, Mohammadmian Soomro, the chairman of the Senate – the upper house of parliament, will become acting president.
Alongside the government, the next president will be forced to urgently address the country’s economic situation, which has suffered badly under problems caused by the world credit crisis. Inflation is at its highest in years, and trade and fiscal deficits are widening. High oil prices have depleted foreign reserves while the rupee has lost about a quarter of its value this year.