President Gen Pervez Musharraf Monday quit office under the threat of imminent impeachment, ending an extraordinary era that spanned nearly nine years of unbridled power. The top leadership of the four-party ruling coalition converged at Zardari House, the residence of the PPP co-chairman here shortly after listening to Musharraf's resignation speech.
They would have to deliberate on the political, economic and judicial challenges bequeathed by the outgoing regime. Countrywide there was jubilation by political activists, civil society workers, lawyers and common people.
The immediate questions the coalition faces include the restoration of deposed judges, choice of the new president, completion of the federal cabinet and, above all, Musharraf's future. Besides the host, Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), Asfandyar Wali Khan (ANP) and Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI) attended the meeting.
Informed sources said despite public rhetoric, Nawaz Sharif softened his stance on Musharraf's trial, ostensibly in response to the Saudi mediation backed by the army that had hastened Musharraf's decision to resign. However, he opposed Musharraf's demand to allow him to stay inside Pakistan.
Musharraf would be allowed to maintain, for the next few days, a façade in keeping with his repeated declarations that he would not flee the country like his handpicked Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz did.
While the state would not initiate any legal proceedings against him on charges of subversion of the constitution and misconduct, despite the popular outcry that followed his resignation, he may not enjoy the same immunity against an individual criminal case.
According to Musharraf's close aides, he will quietly depart for Saudi Arabia after a few days. He would perform umra and then proceed to London on the pretext of a medical checkup.
His college buddy and top aide for the entire period of nine years, Tariq Aziz, reached London on Sunday to make necessary arrangements for this purpose.
Earlier plans to visit the United States have been shelved following US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s cryptic statement that granting asylum to Musharraf was not currently under consideration and the administration is focused on dealing with the new democratic government.
Chairman Senate Mohammad Mian Soomro automatically took over as acting president after Musharraf’s resignation. The new president will be elected within 30 days by an electoral college comprising all four provincial assemblies, the Senate and the National Assemblies, for Musharraf’s unfinished term that was to expire on October 5, 2012.
Amid disagreement over the name of the next president, while Zardari staked PPP’s claim to install its nominee, the leaders reportedly decided to continue further consultations on the subject. However, a consensus existed that the next president should be from a smaller province.
Sharif thought that a Baloch might be selected to dilute the current separatist trends in the province because of decades of neglect. Sources close to the leadership insisted that the coalition would not allow this issue to drag or fracture the relationship and that a decision would be arrived at through consensus.
Sharif reportedly called for the implementation of the pledge made by Zardari prior to the decision on the impeachment to restore the deposed judges within 72 hours after Musharraf’s exit.
A resolution is likely to be moved in the National Assembly on Friday declaring Musharraf’s November 3 actions, including dismissal of 60 judges, as unconstitutional. This will facilitate an executive order by the Prime Minister for restoration of judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, possibly by next Monday.
The incumbent chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar was among the first callers on President Musharraf soon after the announcement of his resignation.
Zardari is believed to have taken Dogar into confidence to ensure a smooth transition. All nine former PML-N ministers would join the federal cabinet immediately after the restoration of judges.
The cabinet would be further expanded to induct more ministers from all four coalition partners and the group from tribal areas.
The meeting discussed the relationship with the army that played a key role in ending the ongoing political stalemate while maintaining strict neutrality.
On foreign relations, the coalition is concerned over the current chill in ties with India in the wake of bomb blasts in the Indian embassy in Kabul and the latest wave of violence in Kashmir.