ISLAMABAD, Pakistan &
The last of Pakistan's four provincial assemblies voted unanimously Friday in favor of ousting President Pervez Musharraf, leaving him with few options as the threat of his impeachment looms.
The vote in the southwestern province of Baluchistan was delivered within hours of an announcement by the two parties in Pakistan's ruling coalition that their leaders had completed a draft of the formal impeachment charges expected to be filed in Parliament on Monday.
The country's three other provincial assemblies voted in favor of Musharraf's impeachment earlier this week, with dozens of members of Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q party casting votes in favor of his ouster.
Leaders of the ruling parties, the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, called Aug. 7 for Musharraf to be impeached. Since then, pressure has mounted on himto step down. On Friday, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said Musharraf should be tried for treason if Parliament votes to impeach him.
A two-thirds majority vote in a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate is required to impeach Musharraf. Parliament would then have 30 days to vote on his replacement.
Speculation was running high in the capital that Musharraf, once a top U.S. ally, will resign. Musharraf, who has weathered two assassination attempts and two elections, faces stark choices in the coming days, analysts and officials here say, and he may also face a fight for his freedom as calls intensify for him to stand trial.
"The big question is not what Pervez Musharraf is going to do, but what's going to happen to him next," said retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, a former head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency and a longtime critic of Musharraf. "I don't think he can be given safe passage anywhere except to jail. If you think about it, it would be a problem for any country to take him in, because al-Qaida has said that he will be unsafe wherever he goes."
The nuclear-armed nation's constitution gives the prime minister the role of key state decision-maker, but Musharraf, who ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999, expanded the powers of the presidency during his nine-year rule. In one of his more controversial moves, he resurrected the president's power to dissolve Parliament and declare a state of emergency. In a further bid to curb challenges to his rule last year, he removed the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, a decision that led to widespread unrest.
Musharraf's critics have accused him of using the intelligence services to enforce his political will. Sharif and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated last year, complained bitterly that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped Musharraf consolidate power during the 2002 elections.
That same year, following a widely discredited referendum, Musharraf granted himself another five years as president. That move was accompanied by a push to adopt constitutional amendments aimed at legitimizing the military coup that swept him to power and barred his two main rivals &
Sharif and Bhutto &
from becoming prime minister again.
Iqbal Jhagra, a top member of Sharif's party, said Parliament would probably vote on whether to bring Musharraf to trial if he is impeached. Jhagra said Musharraf could face the death penalty or life in prison if Pakistan's Supreme Court finds him guilty of treason.
"We are not against Gen. Musharraf as a person, but we are against the dictators who have subverted the constitution of Pakistan. They should be made to stand trial," he said. "If the courts find any evidence against him, it is for them to decide if the penalty will be death or a life sentence."
A spokesman for Musharraf told the Associated Press that the president has no intention of resigning and would fight the impeachment charges. The spokesman called international news media reports of Musharraf's potential resignation "baseless."
Despite the denial, a senior Pakistani official said that talks between representatives of Musharraf and the government were under way but currently stalled over Musharraf's demand for complete indemnity from future civil or criminal prosecution.
The official said the government had rejected Musharraf's insistence on a written agreement, drafted by his own lawyer, signed by Sharif and Zardari and guaranteed by at least two unnamed other governments determined to be "friends" of Pakistan. The government, the official said, has said that it will draft the agreement, that no foreigners can be involved and that indemnity will cover only constitutional issues, including Article 6, which says that anyone who abrogates or subverts the constitution shall be "guilty of high treason," punishable by the death penalty. The article was written to apply to a takeover by the military.
Naseem Zehra, a leading Pakistani political and defense analyst, said that Musharraf will probably fight hard to remain in Pakistan, but that if he stays, "he will remain the center of a lot of political attention, a lot of anger, a lot of resentment and possibly even some revenge."
"Obviously, his staying here would be risky," she added. "If he stays, it won't be the life of a normal citizen."
The Bush administration became a vocal backer of Musharraf's government when he declared allegiance to Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and gave the United States unprecedented access to Pakistani territory. Hundreds of al-Qaida operatives have been captured since then.
But more recently, the U.S. military has worked to broaden its ties with the Pakistani army and its new leaders. President Bush's senior national security advisers have agreed that the White House should exert no further effort on Musharraf's behalf, although the president himself has remained silent on the issue.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.
Musharraf voted out
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan &