Sunday, August 17, 2008

Quit this week or face charges, army tells Musharraf

Pakistan's embattled president, General Pervez Musharraf, has been given an ultimatum to step down by Wednesday or face impeachment and criminal charges.

Senior government sources confirmed yesterday that Musharraf’s successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, had assured him that no charges would be brought if the president went quietly and quickly. But Kayani has indicated that the army will not step in to save Musharraf if he refuses to resign.

Sources close to the president said last night that he was still in fighting mood and determined to answer all charges. But they hinted that he may quit if he is convinced that charges will be dropped and if he is allowed to remain in Pakistan.

Last week Britain, the United States and Saudi Arabia were making vigorous efforts to piece together a deal under which Musharraf would be allowed to go “humanely”.

According to diplomatic sources in Islamabad, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, met Musharraf with a message from the British government that it was “time to go”.

Other meetings with Musharraf’s old enemy Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister whom he overthrew in his 1999 coup, were aimed at persuading him to accept a “safe passage” agreement to resign without facing trial.

Aides to Sharif, a key player in the ruling coalition, said he had resisted requests from Lyall Grant, Saudi Arabia and the US to show “flexibility” and back a “dignified exit” for Musharraf. Britain, the United States and Kayani all fear the possibility of a court case in which the president’s often controversial role in the war on terror would be exposed.

The government has prepared a charge sheet, which includes accusations that Musharraf let the United States breach Pakistan’s sovereignty by bombing terror suspects on its soil. It also accuses him of handing over Pakistani citizens accused of terrorism to America in return for payments to his security services. “The Americans don’t want their dirty linen washed in public,” said a source.

In addition he would face charges over the sacking of the country’s top judges when he introduced emergency rule last November.

Western diplomats in Islamabad believe the wrangling between the two main partners in the government coalition – Asif Zardari, widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, and Sharif – over Musharraf’s future is distracting Pakistan from the war on terror.

“It has been like having no government,” said a diplomat. “No one has been taking any decisions and they must now start to act.”

Sources confirmed that President George W Bush and other senior administration figures refused to take Musharraf’s telephone calls last week to reinforce the message that he no longer enjoys their support.

Officials say Bush discussed Musharraf’s future with Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, at a summit in Egypt in May. When Gilani told Bush that his government wanted to sack Musharraf, Bush asked for time to consider. When Gilani visited America last month, he got his answer. “Make it humane,” Bush is said to have told him.

The prime obstacle to a deal has been Musharraf’s pride and Sharif’s desire for revenge. Sharif wants Musharraf’s fate to deter future dictators. “He wants Musharraf to be brought to justice, to discourage future army chiefs, and he wants his pound of flesh,” said a source.

If that happens, Musharraf is determined to “broaden the accountability” by revealing details of corruption cases against Zardari and other leading politicians.

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