ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, (AP) – President Pervez Musharraf’s spokesman on Monday dismissed suggestions from three U.S. senators that the embattled Pakistani leader make a “graceful” retreat from power after his opponents’ recent election victory.
Musharraf was elected to a new five-year presidential term last year by Pakistani lawmakers, “not by any senator from the United States,” his spokesman Rashid Qureshi told Dawn News television. “So I don’t think he needs to respond to anything that is said by these people.”
Several senators met Musharraf after last week’s parliamentary vote in which his political allies were routed. Some Pakistani leaders and many media commentators have called for him to resign.
The Bush administration appears to want Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror whose own country faces rising Islamic militancy, to continue in office.
However, Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that he would advise Musharraf to seek a dignified way to leave office.
“I firmly believe if they (political parties) do not focus on old grudges — and there’s plenty in Pakistan — and give him a graceful way to move,” then it could happen, Biden, a Democrat, said on ABC television.
Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Chuck Hagel also endorsed a negotiated retreat. They stopped short of saying he should be pushed from power.
The parties of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and another former premier, Nawaz Sharif, won a majority of the seats in the new parliament and are expected to form a coalition government.
However, they fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to impeach Musharraf, whose popularity plummeted last year after he declared a state of emergency and clamped down on the opposition, the judiciary and the media.
Sharif, whose second government fell when Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup, on Monday urged the former army chief to convene the new Parliament.
“The transfer of power should happen immediately,” Sharif told reporters in Islamabad. “The sooner Mr. Musharraf understands the situation, accepts people’s verdict and resigns, the better it is for him.”
However, Bhutto’s party, which will be the strongest in the new legislature, has been more guarded on Musharraf’s future, saying it will be up to lawmakers.
Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower and political successor, said in remarks published Monday that his priority was for the transition to remain smooth.
“We want to unify the country, which is facing some very serious challenges,” Zardari was quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal. “We have to establish democracy and for that we need unity and not confrontation.”
Qureshi insisted Sharif’s voice will find little echo among the legislators.
“The president will function with them (lawmakers). There is no issue with that. The president is an easy man to get along with and I don’t think we should feel that there’ll be any friction there,” Qureshi said.
Western officials are concerned that an attempt to force Musharraf from power would spark a constitutional crisis and hobble Pakistan’s effort to fight growing Islamic extremism.
Taliban-style militants battling government forces near the Afghan border said Sunday say they want dialogue with the winners of the elections and urged the new leadership to abandon the war on terror.