ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – President Pervez Musharraf’s spokesman on Friday denied reports that the embattled Pakistani leader was set to resign, even as another ally said back-channel talks were under way on ways to avoid his impeachment.
The spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, also rejected as “nonsense” claims that Musharraf was seeking legal immunity in case he did step down.
“These unsubstantiated spate of reports are totally baseless and malicious,” Qureshi said, adding such reports were having “negative impact” on the country’s economy.
Former army chief Musharraf dominated Pakistan for years after seizing power in a 1999 military coup, gaining favor from the United States after supporting it in the war on terror.
But his rivals won February parliamentary elections and formed a coalition that has sought to push him chief out of office and already largely sidelined him. Ruling coalition officials have said an impeachment motion could reach Parliament as early as next week.
“There is a lot of background talks going on, whereby a way is trying to be found so that there is no impeachment,” Sen. Tariq Azim, a top official in the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, said earlier Friday. He said the president’s possible resignation, with legal protections, was an option, as was the idea of stripping down the presidency to a figurehead role.
Asked if Musharraf had decided to quit, Azim told The Associated Press, “There are people who are advising him to avoid confrontation, but I don’t think he has made up his mind.”
Azim said people on all sides generally agreed an impeachment battle would strain the country at a time when it faces critical challenges, such as a sinking economy, inflation is running at over 20 percent, and an emboldened Islamic militant movement. “It is at the moment that Pakistan cannot afford confrontation,” Azim said. “And it’s obvious that the present government and President Musharraf cannot get along. So it is in the best interest of Pakistan that some way is found whereby this mode of confrontation can be changed or can be more conciliatory.”
A president has never been impeached in Pakistan’s turbulent 61-year history. The constitution says that the grounds for impeachment are a violation of the constitution or gross misconduct.
The coalition claims an impeachment could be wrapped up by the end of the month, but officials in the president’s office say it could take months, as the procedure is not laid out in the constitution.
“Once they issue impeachment proceedings against him, and issue a charge sheet then it will become almost inevitable that he will want to answer those charges. He feels very strongly that a lot of that is being said is not correct,” Azim said.
Pakistan’s Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said Friday that the ruling coalition was in touch with Musharraf’s aides. “We have conveyed to them that the coalition is determined for impeachment, and if he wants to save himself, the best way is for him to quit,”
Asked if Musharraf could get legal protections, Mukhtar replied, “If a person moves to the side, we are not in the habit of bothering him. This would not be a good attitude, if someone is lying on the ground and we go aggressively against him.”
But it was increasingly unclear as the day wore on Friday how much ome of Musharraf’s rivals would tolerate granting him favors.
On Thursday, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the second biggest party in the ruling coalition, said he opposed granting legal immunity to Musharraf. Sharif’s party has previously said Musharraf should be tried for treason.
Sharif, whom Musharraf pushed out of power in his coup, alleged the president had violated the constitution and compromised the nation’s sovereignty, a reference to Musharraf’s alliance with the U.S. in the war on terror.
On Friday, Sharif aide Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reiterated the stance against granting a safe exit or indemnity to Musharraf.
“Only a few people are still with him and he only wants two things: Indemnity for the sins and crimes he committed in the past eight years, and a piece of land … so he can live rest of his life there,” Khan said.
The pressure on Musharraf has been ramped up in recent days.
Three of Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies passed resolutions this week denouncing the president and urging him to seek a vote of confidence or resign.
Musharraf, who gave up his dual role as army chief late last year, has grown increasingly unpopular through his tenure.
Many Pakistanis blamed rising violence in their country on his partnership with the United States. His popularity hit new lows in 2007 when he ousted dozens of judges and imposed emergency rule in bids to avoid challenges to his rule.
As president, Musharraf still retains the power to dissolve Parliament, but taking such a step would be enormously controversial, and even his allies have advised him against it.
Such a move also would require the support of the army, which has indicated it wants to stay out of politics. There have been no public signs that the army is coming to rescue its former chief, a significant factor in a country that has spent more than half of its 61 years under military.