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Musharraf sits by exit door
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

President Pervez Musharraf is likely to step down within next 24 hours, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in Multan on Saturday amid reports in diplomatic circles that Saudi mediation has played a decisive role in resolving the political crisis in the country.

Credible sources said Musharraf had agreed to submit his resignation after assurances eked by US, British and Saudi officials from top politicians of the ruling coalition to forego impeachment. Musharraf had demanded indemnity from any criminal or constitutional proceedings to be endorsed by Parliament.

The Presidential spokesman, however, continued to deny that Musharraf has submitted his resignation saying there is no truth in all that is being reported by the media.

The foreign minister said once the President tenders his resignation, there would be no need for impeachment. PPP co-chairman Asif Zasrdari in a TV interview said impeachment process would be initiated if Musharraf failed to voluntarily quit his office that might be filled by a female president.

Information minister Sherry Rehman made similar announcement that failure to resign would lead to introduction of impeachment resolution. The special committee tasked by the coalition to draft the chargesheet has completed its task and the law minister is now giving it a legal form, Sherry told reporters on Saturday.

PML-Q secretary-general Mushahid Hussain also confirmed that back channel diplomatic efforts have made progress to facilitate Musharraf’s resignation. He said Musharraf would carve his name in history if he reinstates the judges he deposed and annul the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) under which he pardoned Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and scores of others from corruption charges.

But an eminent jurist and PML-Q senator S.M. Zafar said the President no more had the authority to do any of these tasks. The ordinance can be issued if the cabinet recommends it and the power to restore judges also rests with Parliament or the Prime Minister.

Qureshi said the United States or the army had no role in the impeachment process. The army has maintained a strict neutrality so far but political observers said subtle messages have been conveyed to both the President and the government that the economy would suffer further slide if current crisis is prolonged. The rupee has further weakened against dollar that was fetching Rs 76 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the mystery about the reported hurricane visit of Saudi intelligence chief Prince Maqran further deepened following denial by presidential spokesman who said the prince never met the President. However, the government as also PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif kept a discreet silence on the subject. Even the Saudi embassy declined to confirm or deny the visit.

Contrary to media claims, the Prince was reported to have arrived on Thursday, met Nawaz Sharif in Lahore and left next day to join Saudi monarch Abdullah who is reported to be on a visit abroad. There were reports that the King also had a word with Sharif whom he had rescued in 2000 and provided shelter in Saudi Arabia to live in exile.

Saudis also intervened to block return of Nawaz Sharif on September 10. But later put their foot down to force Musharraf to let Nawaz return to Pakistan on November 25 after Bhutto’s arrival on October 16.

In the new initiative Saudis are believed to have persuaded Sharif to soften his opposition to allowing Musharraf a safe passage and immunity from prosecution. Pakistan is expecting oil import from Saudi Arabia worth $500 million on deferred payment to ease the budgetary crunch its facing. So far the Saudis have not implemented the understanding earlier reached with the Pakistan government but have reportedly promised to do soon if the impeachment imbroglio is resolved.

Musharraf has demanded that he be provided ironclad security and allowed to avail all privileges and perks of a retired president. In the event the government does not concede the demand, Musharraf promises to further prolong national misery and tension by facing the impeachment and delay the process by recourse to right of reply and even intervention by the Supreme Court.

But Musharraf’s main legal advisers, Attorney-General Qayyum Malik and prominent lawyer Hafeez Pirzada, are split over Musharraf’s response to the impeachment. Malik told reporters here that unlike Pirzada, he believes that Musharraf should not test the authority of the Supreme Court to challenge the impeachment motion. He believed it would leave to a catastrophic confrontation between the court and Parliament which would only harm the country but serve nobody’s purpose.



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