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'Musharraf to fight impeachment bid'

The former general will meet his advisers and decide the future course of action. Musharraf, though, still has the options to dissolve the parliament or declare a state of emergency. Chronology of Musharraf's rule

world Updated: Aug 08, 2008 10:48 IST

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will defend himself against impeachment, aides said on Friday, a day after the ruling coalition vowed to launch proceedings to drive the key US ally from power.

Musharraf was set to meet his top legal and political advisers to discuss his dwindling options amid the most serious challenge to the former general's position since he led a bloodless military coup in 1999.

The move is set to deepen the political turmoil in the nuclear-armed, extremism-hit nation -- with the manoevres open to Musharraf including dissolving parliament or even declaring a state of emergency.

"He is considering the options that are available. He will respond to the government's allegations and defend himself," a presidential aide told AFP on condition of anonymity.

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 by filing a charge sheet against the president as early as Monday -- which is also Musharraf's 65th birthday.

The aide said however 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.

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, mainly from the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

But the key factor in Musharraf's decision is likely to be the support he gets from the country's 500,000-strong army, the leadership of which the president gave up last November under international pressure.

"He 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.

Musharraf's successor, General Ashfaq 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 after six decades in which the military has been in power for more than half the time, damaging its image at home.

Imposing a state of emergency would require Musharraf to have military support, while dissolving parliament could also cause unrest in a country already suffering from widespread economic problems.

"The army will not like to be part of the power games," respected Pakistani political analyst Shafqat Mahmood told AFP.

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.

"We have consistently said the internal politics of Pakistan is an issue for the Pakistani people to decide," said State Department spokesman Gonzago Gallegos.

"Our expectation is that any action will be consistent with the rule of law and the Pakistani constitution," Gallegos said.

The spokesman added that Washington and Islamabad "remain close allies in the war on terror, and will continue our close ties with the democratically elected government of Pakistan."

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