Following the second consecutive day of negotiations Wednesday, media outlets reported that Pakistan’s ruling coalition “will move to impeach President Pervez Musharraf on charges of plunging the country into a political and economic crisis.” According to the Associated Press, the PML-N announced Friday that it is rejoining the Cabinet, “a gesture of solidarity now that the bickering coalition partners have agreed to seek President Pervez Musharraf’s impeachment.” The PML-N dramatically resigned from the Cabinet in May, [see related post], over differences regarding the restoration of the judiciary. Today, however, PML-N party officials announced that four of the nine ministers who left would return “in a goodwill gesture.”
Although impeachment plans were announced Thursday, Musharraf still showed no signs of giving into political pressure. Instead, news sources reported the president remained “busy” planning his defense strategy. According to an article in the International Herald Tribune, entitled, “Musharraf Plans Spirited Defense,” the president “faces the first impeachment proceedings in Pakistan’s history.” Party leaders have told news agencies that the grounds for impeaching Musharraf included his imposition of emergency rule and the firing of nearly 60 judges last November as well as his mismanagement of the economy. The IHT article cited Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q who said of the president: “He will say: ‘Look here, I’ve been in office for eight years. I’ve made some mistakes but at least I am not a crook. I have no foreign bank accounts, no properties abroad, unlike the opposition leaders who are gunning for me.”‘
Additionally, noted Hussain:
Musharraf would try to draw a distinction between himself and his opponents: Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the majority party in the coalition, the Pakistan People’s Party, and Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N. In the 1990s, both Zardari and Sharif faced corruption charges in Pakistan, and Zardari spent nearly eight years in prison on charges that included paying for a country manor in Britain with illegal gains from Pakistan. On Zardari’s return to Pakistan earlier this year after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, the corruption charges were dropped as part of an amnesty deal with the Musharraf government.
PML-Q leaders have publicly asserted their support for Musharraf, and they are not alone. According to Dawn, “The president has been holding meetings with his legal aides and loyalists over the past two days. Prominent among those contacted by the president were PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Chaudhry Hamid Nasir Chattha, PML-F chief Pir Pagara, PPP-Sherpao president Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.” Musharraf loyalists claim the coalition lacks the two-thirds majority needed in the Parliament to constitutionally impeach the president.
The choice, noted, Mushahid, is essentially between President Musharraf and President Zardari. “That,” he asserted, “is the question for 160 million people of Pakistan.” According to both Pakistani and Western officials, reported the IHT, Zardari “has indicated that he would like to be president after Musharraf’s departure.” The start of the impeachment proceedings will reportedly begin Monday, and will take at least a week “to gather resolutions calling for the impeachment from provincial assemblies and for the National Assembly to formally approve the start of proceedings.” According to the IHT, “After those preliminaries, the Constitution requires the speaker of the National Assembly to call a joint session of both houses of Parliament no earlier than seven days and no later than 14 days after receiving the approval of Parliament to hear charges. The joint session would then basically become a jury on Musharraf’s tenure.”
Will Musharraf stick it out through the proceedings? At this point, it looks like he’s refusing to budge, despite calls to leave quietly and with his dignity still intact. An op-ed in The News today concluded, “The best course for him is to go. Mr. President, please spare the nation and go.” Whether or not he will heed such advice, of course, remains to be seen. [Image from the AFP]