Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ally Says Pakistani President Won't Dismiss Hostile Assembly

Pervez Musharraf
ISLAMABAD -- An old political ally of President Pervez Musharraf has said Pakistan's embattled former army chief will not use his powers to dissolve the National Assembly to preempt moves to impeach him.

Facing what could be his final challenge, Musharraf called on his foes in the assembly to convene on August 11, knowing the country's four-month-old civilian coalition intends to force him into a confidence vote or impeach him.

After meeting Musharraf on August 9, senior politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain removed lingering fears he will undo the transition to democracy after nine years of military rule by dismissing the assembly.

"He doesn't have any such intention," Hussain, who stepped down as head of the pro-Musharraf party after its defeat in a February election, told the Express television news channel.

The election was won by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated while campaigning in December.

Bhutto's husband and political successor, Asif Ali Zardari, then formed a fragile coalition with Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew in a coup in 1999, and on August 7 they jointly announced plans to impeach the president.

The United States, Western allies, and regional neighbors India and Afghanistan fear a prolonged constitutional crisis will lead to instability in the nuclear-armed state.

They also worry Pakistan will be distracted away from fighting al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist factions whose influence has spread across the northwest of the Muslim country.

Poker-Faced General

Musharraf has not made any public response since Zardari and Sharif declared their plan to oust him.

Some allies say Musharraf won't go without a fight, though he has said previously he would quit rather than be impeached.

His foes say they're confident of getting the two-thirds majority in parliament to oust him and saw Musharraf bowing to the inevitable.

"I don't think there is any question that the impeachment process is failing. I'm quite positive he will resign before that," Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.

Newspapers from hostile media groups, like Jang, ran stories quoting unnamed sources saying the army's top brass has advised Musharraf to resign, though a senior military official said the reports were unfounded.

Yet, everything could rest on the inscrutable army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. Musharraf passed the baton to the former intelligence head last November after retiring from the army.

The chain-smoking Kayani has gained a reputation as a constitutionalist by withdrawing the army from politics.

But the army's patience could be tested if the crisis isn't swiftly resolved, as Pakistan cannot allow internal power struggles to divert the government from steering the economy away from the rocks and meeting the militant challenge.