Dawn : Pakistan's Musharraf announces resignation

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pakistan's Musharraf announces resignation

ISLAMABAD, Aug 18 (AFP) -Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation on Monday in the face of looming impeachment charges, ending a turbulent nine years in power.

“After viewing the situation and consulting legal advisers and political allies, with their advice I have decided to resign,” a grim-faced Musharraf, wearing a sober suit and tie, said in a televised address to the nation.

“I leave my future in the hands of the people.”

Musharraf said he would hand his resignation to the speaker of the national assembly (lower house of parliament) later on Monday.

He made the shock announcement after denying that any of the impeachment charges against him could stand and launching into a lengthy defence of his time in power.

“Not a single charge in the impeachment can stand against me,” Musharraf said.

“No charge can be proved against me because I never did anything for myself, it was all for Pakistan.”

He said that there was now law and order in the country, that human rights and democracy had been improved and that Pakistan was now [a] crucial country internationally.

“On the map of the world, Pakistan is now an important country, by the grace of Allah,” he said.

Musharraf's popularity slumped last year amid his attempts to oust the country's chief justice and then during a wave of Taliban suicide bombings that killed more than 1,000 people, including former premier Benazir Bhutto.

He imposed a state of emergency in November last year to force his re-election to another five-year term through the Supreme Court, but his political allies were trounced at the February polls.

The coalition of parties which won the February election, led by Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, finally overcame months of divisions and agreed to impeach Musharraf on August 7.

It piled on the pressure with no-confidence votes in Pakistan's four provincial assemblies last week.

Then on Sunday it said it had drawn up impeachment charges and would lodge them in parliament this week.

The charges reportedly included violation of the constitution and gross misconduct.

Officials say that Musharraf's aides have been in talks with the coalition, brokered by Saudi Arabia, the United States and Britain, to allow him to quit in return for indemnity.

Musharraf's spokesman had repeatedly denied in recent days that he was about to quit, and it was not immediately clear what would happen next.

But a lack of apparent support from Pakistan's army, which he left in November, apparently made other options -- including dissolving parliament or even declaring another state of emergency -- impossible.

Speculation over Musharraf's fate intensified overnight when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that granting asylum to Musharraf was not currently under consideration by the United States.

“That's not an issue on the table, and I just want to keep our focus on what we must do with the democratic government of Pakistan,” Rice said.

Western allies want Pakistan to resolve the crisis over Musharraf so it can deal with the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, where nearly 500 people have died in the past week.

The government is also struggling to deal with a severe economic crunch.