Musharraf plans impeachment fightback

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will defend himself against impeachment by the ruling coalition, aides and allies said on Friday, as the United States-backed leader mulled his options for a fightback.

Musharraf met senior advisers to discuss his course of action a day after his enemies in the government announced the most serious challenge to the former general since he seized power in a 1999 military coup.

The president could possibly dissolve Parliament or even declare a state of emergency, further deepening the political turmoil in the nuclear-armed nation as it faces rising Islamic militancy.

“He is considering the options that are available. He will respond to the government’s allegations and defend himself,” a presidential aide said.

Musharraf ally Mushahid Hussain pledged his party’s support.

“We will prepare a case, the president should be there [in Parliament] and defend himself, and at least say, ‘I am not a crook,’” said Hussain, secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party.

Coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari—the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto—and Nawaz Sharif announced on Thursday that they would seek Musharraf’s impeachment for allegedly mismanaging the country.

Officials said Parliament could begin the impeachment process as early as Monday, which is also Musharraf’s 65th birthday.

But the presidential aide said that Musharraf would “not wait for the numbers game”—meaning that he would not indulge in political horsetrading to stop the coalition getting the votes it needs.

Impeachment requires a two-thirds majority in the upper and lower Houses of Parliament under Pakistan’s Constitution. It would be the first time in Pakistan’s 61-year history that a president has been impeached.

Another Musharraf ally said the coalition could not get enough votes to support impeachment.
“We are going to oppose it. It is a half-baked effort and a sure recipe for disaster,” Tariq Azim, the information minister in the last government, said.

But Azim and Hussain both warned against dissolving Parliament, saying it would damage the country’s democracy.

The coalition is currently several seats short of the 295 votes it requires out of the 439 in the Senate and National Assembly to remove Musharraf.

Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, together with smaller coalition partners, have 266 seats and need a further 29 MPs on side, likely to be from the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

The key factor in what Musharraf does next is likely to be the support he gets from the army—he quit as army chief last November.

Musharraf’s successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, was holding a second day of scheduled meetings with top brass on Friday but officials said they were dealing only with military matters.

Kayani has shown no signs of disloyalty, and the military has historically acted to defend the honour of its current and former chiefs. But Kayani has also appeared keen to keep the army out of politics.

Musharraf “can dismiss the government, suspend it or leave the stage but that option is very remote—he would do that only when he realises that the real powers are not supporting him”, the presidential aide said, referring to the military.

The United States, which counts Musharraf as a lynchpin in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, said that the impeachment was an “internal” matter.—Sapa-AFP

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