August 12, 2008

Pakistan Edges Toward Impeaching Musharraf

The lower house of the Pakistani Parliament was set to convene Monday as the governing coalition geared up to impeach President Pervez Musharraf.

Also Monday, provincial legislatures were to begin offering resolutions calling on Musharraf to step down or face impeachment.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the president said Musharraf had a "clean track record" and would not resign - despite a rising clamor among the governing parties and media for him to quit.

"Abdication is the only option," The Daily Times said in an editorial Monday.

Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. But his foes swept elections in February to set up a new government and push the former army chief to the sidelines, just four months after he had won a new five-year term in a controversial vote by the previous Parliament.

The coalition announced its impeachment plans last week and said it was preparing a "charge sheet" with allegations against Musharraf including violation of the Constitution, economic mismanagement and political manipulation.

Ahsan Iqbal, spokesman for the second-largest coalition party, said the impeachment motion would be filed after the provincial assemblies had passed their resolutions, which could continue into next week.

No president has been impeached in Pakistan's turbulent 61-year history. The coalition contends it can get the two-thirds majority required in a joint sitting of both houses in Parliament to strip Musharraf of the presidency.

Although Musharraf's allies dispute that and have urged the longtime U.S. ally to fight impeachment, they have advised the president against using his authority to dismiss Parliament and the prime minister. Such moves would be contentious and require support from the army, which has indicated it wants to stay out of politics.

In an interview published Sunday, the leader of the majority party in the coalition, Asif Ali Zardari, accused Musharraf of misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid intended for the Pakistani military and meant to support the war on terrorism.

"They claim it's been going in budget support, but that's not the answer. We're talking about $700 million a year missing," Zardari was quoted as telling The Sunday Times of Britain. "The rest has been taken by 'Mush' for some scheme or other, and we've got to find it."

Zardari said the U.S. aid may have gone to fund rogue members of Pakistani intelligence - a branch of which was recently accused by U.S. officials of supporting pro-Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan.

In his reported comments, Zardari did not offer proof to support the allegations. Musharraf's spokesman could not immediately be reached Monday to respond to the report, which was carried on the front page of several Pakistani dailies.

On Monday, Musharraf's spokesman, retired Major General Rashid Qureshi, reiterated that the president would not step down. "There's no such thing. You'd better ask those who say he's going to resign," Qureshi said.

Originally published by AP, Reuters.

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