Musharraf's exit poses challenge for Pakistan

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 19, 2008; 12:14 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pervez Musharraf resigned Monday as the president of Pakistan, avoiding a power struggle with rivals vowing to impeach him that would have deepened the country's political crisis.

His exit, announced in an emotional televised address, leaves the politicians who pushed out the stalwart U.S. ally to face the Islamic militants and economic problems gnawing at this nuclear-armed nation.

"There is a huge challenge ahead," said Shafqat Mahmood, a former government minister and prominent political analyst. "Now this whole Musharraf excuse is behind us. Now people are going to be focusing on their performance."

Musharraf's departure after nearly nine divisive years in power was widely expected after months of rising pressure for him to leave, culminating in the threat to bring impeachment charges to Parliament this week.

A diminished figure since he resigned as army chief in November and found himself cut out of policymaking by the civilian government, the 65-year-old former general left the presidency amid a palpable lack of overt support from either of his main props _ the army and Washington.

Underlining how the West has already moved on, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered "deep gratitude" for Musharraf's decision to join the U.S.-led fight against extremists following the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he "served as a good ally of the United States."

But she was careful to signal strong support for the civilian government that pushed him aside.

"We believe that respect for the democratic and constitutional processes in that country is fundamental to Pakistan's future and its fight against terrorism," Rice said.

Still, Musharraf's demise throws up a string of critical questions, including whether the ruling coalition will hold together without its common foe and whether the main parties will maintain Musharraf's close alliance with the U.S.

Musharraf's departure is unlikely to have a significant impact on how Pakistan's nuclear weapons are controlled, however. Experts say a 10-member committee, and not just the president, makes decisions on how to use them.

In an hour-long address devoted largely to defending his record, Musharraf listed the many problems now facing Pakistan, including its sinking economy and a chronic power shortage, and suggested his opponents were targeting him to mask their own failings.

"I am going with the satisfaction that whatever I have done was for the people and for the country ... I hope the nation and the people will forgive my mistakes," he said.

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