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Coalition giving time to president

August 18, 2008

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 17: The ruling coalition appears to be dallying with the impeachment process to provide time to President Pervez Musharraf to make up his mind about resigning, instead of facing a humiliating exit.

Sources in the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N admitted on Sunday that the impeachment process was being delayed so that mediators could get more time to persuade Gen (retd) President Musharraf to resign and decide about his life after leaving the presidency.

The sources said that some issues related to the post-Musharraf scenario still needed to be discussed by the coalition partners.

Another important factor, according to the sources, is that although the army has decided to stay neutral, it does not want the president’s ouster through impeachment.

Announcing the impeachment plan on Aug 7, the heads of the coalition parties had said that an impeachment notice would be submitted to the National Assembly secretariat soon after the four provincial assemblies passed resolutions against the president.

Although the coalition leaders had not publicly announced any date for moving the impeachment resolution in the National Assembly, in private conversations they had indicated that the notice would be submitted on Monday or Tuesday.

However, the sources now say that it is unlikely that the notice will be submitted by Tuesday.

However, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar denied a perception that the process was being deliberately delayed. He said it was not in the interest of the coalition to do so.

Meanwhile, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari started the final round of consultations with coalition partners.

He met Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan on Sunday to finalise a strategy to be adopted during the tabling of the impeachment resolution in a joint sitting of parliament.

Mr Zardari had met Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Saturday night and he is expected to meet PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif on Monday.

A source in the presidency told Dawn that Mr Musharraf had spent the day meeting his family members and friends and he did not hold any official meeting with his legal aides or any political leader. He attended a wedding ceremony at Marriott Hotel on Saturday night.

On the other hand, many leaders of the ruling coalition and federal ministers continued to press the president to resign before he was formally charged with violating the Constitution and gross misconduct.

“He has lost all moral authority to rule” and after the adoption of the resolutions against him in all the four provinces “he no longer represents the federation”, said Leader of the House in the Senate Raza Rabbani at a news conference after attending a meeting of the coalition committee which finalised the draft of the charge-sheet.

The news conference had been arranged to announce that independent Senator Amin Dadabhoy, who had previously voted for President Musharraf, had joined the PPP.

A source in the coalition told Dawn that President Musharraf’s desperate desire to have the army, or at least its chief, acquire the role of a mediator or messenger in the crisis were dashed when both sides were politely informed by the quarters concerned that the armed forces were, and would like to remain, out of the political tussle.

Commenting on media reports that Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was being asked to act as a go-between or guarantor in case of the president’s resignation or any other eventuality, the coalition leader said they were not anticipating any such role for the army chief.

He was not clear if the reports were emanating from the president’s camp, but said the government was pleased with what he described as the “neutrality” being maintained by the army commanders.

He said the top political leadership had been informed that the policy adopted by the COAS of limiting the armed forces’ role to purely security-related issues was still being pursued, and this was exactly the theme of discussions and debate in the recent conferences of the senior commanders.

Replying to a question during his news conference, Senator Rabbani said it would be “unfair to say that the army chief is with the government or with Musharraf”. He said the armed forces were playing their constitutional role of defending the country’s frontiers and showing “neutrality”.

He said the draft of the charge-sheet was ready and it would be handed over to the leadership on Monday.

He said that besides the coalition partners other allies who were supporting the impeachment move would also be taken into confidence on the charge-sheet.

He said there was no “moral justification” for Mr Musharraf to continue as the president.

He praised the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for adopting a “positive way” by abstaining from the Sindh assembly when the resolution against the president was tabled.

Senator Rabbani avoided saying when would the impeachment notice be submitted to the National Assembly secretariat.

Senator Dadabhoy, while justifying his decision to join the PPP six months before fresh Senate elections, said he and his family had remained associated with the party for many years.

Replying to a question, he also justified his decision of voting for President Musharraf in the past, saying that he was under an impression that things were moving in the right direction.

Earlier, the coalition committee finalised the draft of the charge-sheet in the light of the legal opinion of Law Minister Farooq Naek.

Talking to reporters, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said the decision to provide a ‘safe passage’ to the president was on the discretion of the coalition leadership.