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ISLAMABAD, Aug 9: The ruling coalition got a boost on Saturday after four senators from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) declared support for the move to impeach President Pervez Musharraf and some old allies of the president said they had not yet decided whether they would defend him or not.

A special committee of the coalition partners met at the Parliament House chamber of the Leader of the House in Senate, Raza Rabbani, to finalise drafts of the proposed resolutions to be tabled in provincial assemblies.

The resolutions will ask the president to seek a vote of confidence from the assemblies or face impeachment.

The committee is also drafting a charge-sheet against Mr Musharraf for presentation at a joint session of parliament.

PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal, who is a member of the drafting committee, later claimed at a news conference that according to a “cautious estimate”, the ruling coalition had the support of 325 members of the National Assembly and the Senate, while Information Minister Sherry Rehman claimed to have the support of about 350.

Fata senators -- Abdul Raziq Afridi, Hafiz Abdul Malik Qadri, Hafiz Rasheed Ahmed and Engineer Rashid Ahmed Khan -- through a jointly signed statement expressed support for the coalition and asked Mr Musharraf to “resign and vacate the office of the president of Pakistan” before the impeachment proceedings.

The senators held Pervez Musharraf responsible for instability and poor law and order situation in Fata and the NWFP. “His (Musharraf’s) policies have further polarised an already tense political situation in the region and have led to political instability and heightening of tension among various segments of society. It has also led to the killing of innocent people, including notables and Maliks of the area,” the senators alleged.

SHERPAO: Former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who is considered to be a close associate of President Musharraf, told BBC on Saturday he had not yet decided whether his party would defend the president.

He said he had not been contacted by the president. However, PPP leader Syed Khurshid Shah and PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had met him and asked him to vote against the president, Mr Sherpao disclosed .

In reply to a question, Mr Sherpao, chief of his own faction of the PPP, said his party would take a decision in a day or two.

The PPP-Sherpao has four members in the Senate and the National Assembly.

An estranged PML-Q senator, Nilofar Bakhtiar, told the media that the forward bloc, formed by her and six other senators in April, was alive and the group would decide soon whether to participate in the voting or not.

“We do not support a statement of PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain that the party would defend President Musharraf,” she said.

Other senators in the bloc are: Tahira Latif, Wali Mohammad Badini, Amjad Warraich, Zafar Chaudhry, Asif Jatoi of the Jatoi group and Sanaullah Zehri of the Balochistan National Party (Awami).

Sources said that the coalition’s committee had prepared drafts of the resolutions for the provincial assemblies and it was now working on the charge-sheet against the president.

Senator Raza Rabbani, Information Minister Sherry Rehman, Law Minister Farooq Naek, Farhatullah Babar, Education Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Senator Ishaq Dar are members of the committee. It will meet again on Sunday morning.

Senator Dar did not attend the Saturday meeting as he was away in Lahore.

Talking to Dawn after the meeting, Senator Rabbani said that being an electoral college for the presidential election, it was an inherent right of parliament to move for an impeachment of the president.

Commenting on reports that the president might move the Supreme Court, he said that if such a move was made, the parliament would defend its constitutional right. “It is an internal matter of parliament and the court cannot look into it.”He said that according to the Constitution, a member could make any speech in parliament and it was not actionable at any forum. “Even if there is criticism of judiciary in the speech, it cannot amount to the contempt of court.”

Also on Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called on PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari and reviewed progress on the impeachment move. Mr Rabbani assisted Mr Zardari in the meeting.

Ahsan Iqbal, at a news conference, claimed to have the support of 325 parliamentarians and said more opposition members had got in touch with the coalition. He denied charges of horse-trading.

Mr Iqbal maintained that the Supreme Court, “particularly PCO judges”, could not interfere in the impeachment procedure. He said the president should have seen “the writing on the wall” when he was not received by any chief minister whenever he visited a province.

He said it was wrong to criticise PML-N for accepting PPP’s proposal of impeaching the president before reinstatement of judges. He said impeachment would be the first step towards restoration of the judges.

Sherry Rehman told reporters that the coalition enjoyed the support of 350 legislators and the number was increasing “every hour”.

She said the floor-crossing clause would not apply to those who voted in favour of the impeachment motion. She alleged that many MNAs and senators were being pressurised to prevent them from the voting and “generous bribes” were being offered.

In reply to a question, Ms Rehman said that senior party leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim would “definitely vote in favour of the impeachment motion”.

FOUR MINISTERS: Four PML-N ministers -- out of the nine who had resigned -- rejoined the cabinet of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Saturday. They are: Ahsan Iqbal (education), Rana Tanveer Ahmed (defence production), Khawaja Saad Rafiq (culture and youth affairs) and Sardar Mahtab Abbasi (railways).

The PML-N ministers had quit the cabinet on May 12 after expiry of the second deadline for judges’ restoration.