ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is ready to resign rather than face impeachment but is seeking immunity from prosecution for imposing emergency rule, a coalition government official said.
Speculation has been mounting that the former army chief and firm U.S. ally Musharraf would quit since the ruling coalition, led by the party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said last week it planned to impeach him.
A spokesman for the president has repeatedly denied media reports that he was about to quit, and he did so again on August 15.
But a coalition official said negotiations on the terms of the unpopular president's resignation were going on.
"He is ready to resign but he is putting conditions like indemnity for the November 3 action," said the official, who declined to be identified, referring to Musharraf's imposition of six weeks of emergency rule last year.
"Back-door talks are still going on. Things have not yet been finalised. Let's see what happens," said the official, who has knowledge of the talks.
The long-running crisis surrounding Musharraf's future has heightened concern in the United States and among other allies about the stability of the nuclear-armed Muslim state, which is in the front line of the campaign against Islamist militancy.
Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup but has been isolated since his allies lost a February election.
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino referred to reports of Musharraf's resignation plan as a product of the "rumor mill," adding that the United States considered the leadership of Pakistan an issue for Pakistanis.
'Ready To Impeach'
Musharraf's chief spokesman, retired Major General Rashid Qureshi, said he had no idea of any plan by Musharraf to step down or that there were negotiations about his resignation.
"I'm tired of saying there's no such thing," he said.
But Tariq Azeem Khan, a politician close to Musharraf and a former deputy government minister, said talks were going on.
"Well-wishers are trying to ensure that matters are settled amicably through discussions rather than going through a long, protracted impeachment process," he said.
In an Independence Day address on August 14, Musharraf issued a call for reconciliation to tackle economic and security problems.
But his appeal was rejected, with coalition officials saying steps to impeach the president were on track.
The "Financial Times" quoted an unidentified government member as saying a deal had been brokered and Musharraf would resign.
It said Musharraf had demanded he be allowed to retire to his farm in Islamabad and that there be no moves to prosecute him once out of office. It quoted an official as saying the powerful army had insisted Musharraf's demands be met.
Coalition leaders said this week the army, which has ruled for more than half the country's history since its founding in 1947, would not intervene to back its old boss. Analysts say the army is loath to step into the fray.
Coalition officials have been hoping Musharraf would quit to avoid impeachment, while some allies have said he should at least answer charges brought against him before stepping down.
"The next 48 hours are important. If he does not resign then we are ready to move the impeachment motion against him on [August 18]," said another coalition official.
Bhutto party official Farhatullah Babar said his party and its main coalition partner, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in 1999, differed on the question of prosecuting the president.
Sharif said on August 14 that Musharraf had to face the consequences of his actions but Babar said any decision should be left to parliament.