Vote Leaves Musharraf Few Options

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 16, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 15 -- The last of Pakistan's four provincial assemblies voted unanimously Friday in favor of impeaching President Pervez Musharraf, leaving him with few options as the threat of his ouster looms.

The vote in the southwestern province of Baluchistan was delivered within hours of an announcement by the two parties in Pakistan's ruling coalition that their leaders had completed a draft of the formal impeachment charges expected to be filed in Parliament on Monday.

The country's three other provincial assemblies voted in favor of Musharraf's impeachment earlier this week, with dozens of members of Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q party casting votes with the majority.

Leaders of the ruling parties, the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, called Aug. 7 for Musharraf to be impeached. Since then, pressure has mounted on him to step down. On Friday, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said Musharraf should be tried for treason if Parliament votes to impeach him.

A two-thirds majority vote in a joint session of the National Assembly and the Senate is required to impeach Musharraf. Parliament would then have 30 days to vote on his replacement.

Speculation was running high in the capital that Musharraf, once a top U.S. ally, would resign. Musharraf, who has weathered two assassination attempts and two elections, faces stark choices in the coming days, analysts and officials here say, and he may also face a fight for his freedom as calls intensify for him to stand trial.

"The big question is not what Pervez Musharraf is going to do, but what's going to happen to him next," said retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, a former head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency and a longtime critic of Musharraf. "I don't think he can be given safe passage anywhere except to jail. If you think about it, it would be a problem for any country to take him in, because al-Qaeda has said that he will be unsafe wherever he goes."

The nuclear-armed nation's constitution gives the prime minister the role of key state decision-maker, but Musharraf, who ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999, expanded the powers of the presidency during his nine-year rule. In one of his more controversial moves, he resurrected the president's power to dissolve Parliament and declare a state of emergency. In a further bid to curb challenges to his rule last year, he removed the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, a decision that led to widespread unrest.

Musharraf's critics have accused him of using the intelligence services to enforce his political will. Sharif and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated last year, complained bitterly that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped Musharraf consolidate power during the 2002 elections.

That same year, following a widely discredited referendum, Musharraf granted himself another five years as president. That move was accompanied by a push to adopt constitutional amendments aimed at legitimizing the military coup that swept him to power and barred his two main rivals -- Sharif and Bhutto -- from becoming prime minister again.

Iqbal Jhagra, a top member of Sharif's party, said Parliament will probably vote on whether to bring Musharraf to trial if he is impeached. Jhagra said Musharraf could face the death penalty or life in prison if Pakistan's Supreme Court finds him guilty of treason.

"We are not against General Musharraf as a person, but we are against the dictators who have subverted the constitution of Pakistan. They should be made to stand trial," he said. "If the courts find any evidence against him, it is for them to decide if the penalty will be death or a life sentence."

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