Musharraf Exits, but Uncertainty Remains

All over Pakistan, news of President Pervez Musharraf's departure from office has been greeted with jubilation.
By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 18 -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation Monday signaled the beginning of a new round of political uncertainty as the country's civilian government tries to reshape the legacy of nearly nine years of military rule.

Politicians began marathon meetings about possible replacements for Musharraf, with early reports suggesting a woman might be chosen. As word of the resignation spread, Musharraf's opponents celebrated with cakes in some places, gunfire in others. Financial markets rebounded.

But with the country's economy at an all-time low and a radical Islamist insurgency based in the country's tribal areas gaining in strength, the civilian coalition faces challenges that will not be easily or quickly sorted out, analysts here said.

Musharraf's exit, facilitated by an immunity agreement, appeared to augur a new rapport between the country's newly elected civilian government and the powerful military. But few people here seemed certain the nuclear-armed nation's episodic clashes between military might and secular statesmanship were at an end. And the departure of a man who closely allied himself with the United States in anti-terrorism operations opens the question of how his successor will work with Washington and confront the growing insurgency within Pakistan's borders.

Officials said it is likely that Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 military coup, will soon leave the country, possibly to live in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai. He negotiated immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for events during his rule, assurances that smoothed his resignation, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Musharraf announced his decision in a nationally televised public address 11 days after leaders of the two ruling parties said they would proceed with his impeachment. Demands for his resignation became increasingly vocal last week after Pakistan's four provincial assemblies voted overwhelmingly for his ouster.

In the hour-long address, Musharraf struck a defiant and emotional tone, saying that opponents had opted for the politics of confrontation over reconciliation. He said he would step down in the interest of maintaining stability in Pakistan.

"I am leaving with the satisfaction that whatever I could do for this country I did it with integrity," Musharraf said. "I am a human, too. I may have made mistakes, but I believe that the people will forgive me."

In Islamabad, the capital, news of Musharraf's departure was greeted with jubilation. People flocked to sweets shops in the city's popular Jinnah Supermarket to buy cakes and pastries to celebrate. Shazia Hassan, a 32-year-old homemaker, was nearly bursting with excitement as she stood in line to buy cakes for her husband and children. "It's the dawn of democracy," she declared.

Leaders of the ruling Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N party hailed the resignation. "This is a victory for democratic forces," said Farzana Raja, a top member of the Pakistan People's Party. "It should have happened much earlier. The dictatorship should have been done away with some time ago."

The parties, which defeated Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q faction in national parliamentary elections in February, have pledged to elect a new president as quickly as possible. Coalition government leaders met late Monday in Islamabad to discuss the next steps and potential candidates for the post.

Leading contenders for the presidency are likely to come from the Pakistan People's Party, which won a majority of seats in Parliament in the February elections.

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