ISLAMABAD, Aug 7: Leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) have agreed to begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf, charging him with violating the Constitution, weakening the federation and other state institutions and causing a critical economic impasse.

“The coalition believes that it has become imperative to move for impeachment under Article 47 (of the Constitution),” PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari said at a news conference he addressed here on Thursday along with his partners in the ruling coalition, including PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, after three days of hectic dialogue.

On the other hand, President Pervez Musharraf again cancelled his visit to China where he was due to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Hours before the announcement of the impeachment decision, the foreign ministry announced that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, instead of President Musharraf, would attend the Olympics ceremony.

Mr Zardari read out a ‘joint communique’ issued after the final round of talks with his coalition partners and said he had asked the PML-N to rejoin the cabinet — to which Mr Sharif would respond after consultations.

The communique contains a complete plan for impeachment proceedings and an outline of the charge-sheet that will be presented along with a resolution for impeachment in a joint sitting of parliament.

All the four provincial assemblies will adopt resolutions demanding that President Musharraf should seek a vote of confidence immediately in accordance with a commitment made in the Supreme Court.

The coalition decided to initiate the process if the president failed to take a confidence vote.

Mr Zardari did not give dates for convening the sessions of the national and provincial assemblies.

However, according to sources, the government is planning to convene the sessions on Aug 11 because it wants to complete the process of impeachment by the end of the current month.

The coalition claimed to have the required strength in parliament to impeach the president.

“We have the numbers and we have the courage and will to do it,” was Mr Zardari’s reply to a question.

However, at one point he said that he had 90 per cent hopes that the plan would succeed.

The coalition leadership resolved to reinstate “strictly in accordance with the Murree Declaration” all the judges removed through “extra-constitutional means” by Gen Musharraf on Nov 3 (last year).

The step would be taken immediately after the president’s impeachment, said Mr Zardari.

“I don’t think the coalition and democracy are so weak that any person can use Article 58-2(b),” said Mr Zardari in response to a question about the possibility of the president dissolving the assemblies.

He warned that if the president invoked the article it would be his “last act against Pakistan and its people”.

Mr Sharif, in an apparent reference to the dissolution of the assemblies in the past, said it was not the 1980s and 1990s. He said frequent military takeovers had weakened the country.

When asked whether the coalition wanted to hold a trial of President Musharraf after his ouster, Mr Zardari said the matter would be decided by parliament.

In response to a question if the coalition had the backing of the United States and the army for the move, Mr Sharif said they did not require any NOC (no-objection certificate) from any country or person for impeaching the president.

According to the communique, the coalition felt that the people had given a clear mandate in the Feb 18 elections in favour of democratic forces and voted for a change through the ouster of Gen (retd) Musharraf by defeating his ‘King’s party’. In spite of his clear commitment that he would resign if his party was defeated in the elections, he continued to cling on to the office of the president. Notwithstanding the constitutional position of his election on Oct 7 (last year) from an outgoing parliament, he made a clear-cut commitment through his attorney before the Supreme Court that he would get a vote of confidence from the newly-elected assembly, which he failed to do.“He also failed to address the new parliament as required under Article 56 of the Constitution,” Mr Zardari said.

“The economic policies pursued by Gen Musharraf over the past eight years have brought Pakistan to the brink of a critical economic impasse. The incompetence and failure of his policies have thrown the country into its worst power shortage in history.

“His policies have weakened the federation and eroded the trust of the nation in national institutions. He has worked to undermine the transition to democracy through collusion with the King’s party, which was rejected by the people of Pakistan,” the communique said.

The coalition partners resolved to implement the Charter of Democracy signed by Mr Sharif and late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto to work together to steer the country onto the path of constitutional governance; to restore the supremacy of the Constitution, independence of the judiciary and rule of law; to avert the impending economic crisis which the coalition inherited on March 31 and to fight the menace of price hike, unemployment, poverty, and loadshedding.

“The coalition also agreed to address the volatile situation in Fata and the NWFP with policies shaped by the legitimacy of a consensus in parliament,” it said.

Haji Adeel of the Awami National Party (ANP), Rehmatullah Kakar of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and MNAs Noorul Haq Qadri and Hamidullah Afridi from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas were also present.

Meanwhile, senior PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim once again warned his party’s leadership against taking the ‘extreme step’. Talking to DawnNews TV, he said the “coalition is playing with fire”. He was of the view that the move would result in confrontation among state institutions.

Senator Nisar Memon of the PML-Q said his party had voted for Mr Musharraf and it would fully defend him in parliament. He alleged that the coalition had announced the impeachment plan only to divert the attention of the nation from the real issues and to hide its failure.

When asked about the options available with the president, the senator said he would do whatever was in the nation’s interest.

Expressing ‘disappointment’ over the joint communique, a lawyer said a similar pledge had been made on March 9 after the signing of the Murree Declaration and the real test would be whether it would be implemented in letter and spirit.

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