Pakistan's Punjab Assembly Votes Overwhelmingly for Musharraf to Quit

Pervez Musharraf's tenure as the president of Pakistan has been marked by upheaval.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 12, 2008; Page A08

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 11 -- Members of Punjab province's local assembly voted 321 to 25 Monday that President Pervez Musharraf should leave office, a move that analysts say is likely to be followed by the country's three other provincial assemblies in coming days.

The nonbinding votes were requested by the country's two ruling civilian parties to keep pressure on the former general as they prepare formal impeachment documents for submission to Parliament.

People here were divided over whether Musharraf, an ally of the Bush administration, would contest the charges, which will likely focus on abuse of office, or simply resign.

Retired Gen. Rashid Qureshi, chief spokesman for Musharraf, told local reporters that the president will challenge the charges, which are being brought by the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N.

Farhatullah Babar, a senior spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party, said that "the charge sheet is proceeding along well and it will be pretty heavy. I think he will resign and not stand for charges in Parliament." He predicted that "the general will see the writing on the wall."

Musharraf, who turned 65 on Monday, received support from his Pakistan Muslim League-Q party after several top members met Sunday in Lahore to discuss the impeachment threat.

Sen. Tariq Azim Khan, the party's top spokesman, said the charges, which will allege abuse of office, are unfounded. "We decided that we will back President Musharraf. There is no question of him quitting. He was elected to a five-year term," Khan said. "He should explain himself to Parliament."

Pakistan's deteriorating economic and political situation was on display again Monday as the Pakistani rupee fell to an all-time low against the U.S. dollar and as hundreds of people fled the embattled Bajaur tribal area amid clashes between Taliban insurgents and Pakistani army troops. Residents in the tribal town of Khar said at least 13 people had been killed by government bombing campaigns in the area as Pakistani security forces tried for a fourth straight day to retake the region from Islamist insurgents.

Farrukh Zain, a 42-year-old banker, said Musharraf should step down, but hastened to add that he had little faith that leaders of the coalition parties would remedy the instability in the country. "Good riddance to Musharraf. But what does it really mean?" Zain said. "People are so focused on finding a scapegoat. Meanwhile, the dollar is at 74 rupees and the price of gas is skyrocketing."

Since overthrowing then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a military coup in 1999, Musharraf has weathered a host of crises, including an earthquake in Kashmir that killed tens of thousands in 2005 and the emergence of an increasingly strong Islamist insurgency within the country's borders. He enjoyed immense popularity during the early years of his rule, but his standing shifted substantially after he became one of the first Muslim leaders to ally himself with the United States after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.

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