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Initial Reaction To Pakistani President's Resignation Cautious

Pakistanis watching Musharraf's resignation in Lahore
Pakistanis watching Musharraf's resignation in Lahore
News of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation is being received with caution both domestically and internationally.

One of the main parties in Pakistan's governing coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed by the 1999 military coup that brought Musharraf to power.

PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal has said his party insists that Musharraf stand trial for alleged violations of Pakistan's Constitution during his nine years in power.

"As far as General Musharraf's crimes are concerned, Nawaz Sharif has said that he has forgiven all the injustices against himself," Iqbal said. "But the crimes against the Pakistani nation, against Pakistan's judiciary, against the rule of law and democracy in Pakistan, those cannot be forgiven by a person or a party."

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late Benazir Bhutto and chairman of the other main party in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan People's Party, has said the first priority is to restore the independence of the court system following the sacking of many judges by Musharraf.

World leaders have urged stability and unity in Pakistan, which is seen by the West as a key partner in fighting terrorism.

The British government said Musharraf's announcement has ended a "critical period" in Pakistan's history. It called upon political leaders in Islamabad to unite in order to keep Pakistan on course with economic and security concerns.

Regional rival India described Musharraf's decision to resign as an "internal matter" for Pakistan.

There was no immediate reaction from Washington, where it was early morning when Musharraf made his announcement on national television.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Kabul hopes Musharraf's resignation "will have a positive effect on the strengthening of civilian government institutions and democracy in Pakistan. Afghanistan hopes that Pakistan has a stable democracy based upon the rule of law."

Part Of The Problem?

Dominique Moisi, the deputy director of the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations, says Musharraf's resignation comes just as many observers were beginning to question whether Musharraf was a benefit or a hindrance to security in the region.

"Musharraf's role was, by the end of the day, very ambivalent. He was seen as the ally of the United States and a symbol of stability in the region. But was he really such a symbol? Was he part of the problem? Or was he part of the solution?" Moisi asks.

"More and more observers came to the conclusion that Musharraf himself was part of the problem. Therefore, his resignation today signifies more confusion," Moisi adds. "But it will not necessarily lead this part of the world into immediate chaos. He was part of the problem. And part of the problem is resigning today."

But Moisi adds that Pakistan could be facing even more problems in the near future with its economy, domestic politics, and the fight against terrorism.

"Unfortunately, the vision one has of Pakistan right now is an extremely negative one," Moisi notes. "The future is very bleak. The economic situation is confused. The political situation is even more confused. And the security situation is deteriorating. So, unfortunately, it looks like a dark spot on the planet."

In Peshawar, a Pakistani city that strongly supported Musharraf's political opponents during elections in February, many residents were celebrating news of Musharraf's resignation. Among them was a Pashto-speaking Peshawar resident named Mujaheed.

"I am very happy," he said. "I am pleased that Musharraf has resigned. It is pleasant news for our country. We wanted deep in our hearts for him to go."

Another Peshawar resident, Imam Sayed, said the real test for the impact of Musharraf's resignation will be whether the economic and security situation in Pakistan improves in the weeks and months ahead.

"I am very happy that the president has resigned. It is good news for the safeguarding of the country because the situation had become very bad," he said. "And I hope, God willing, that the situation will improve after his resignation."

Cautious Hope For Improvement

Rashid Waziri, an expert at the Kabul-based Afghan Center for Regional Studies, tells RFE/RL that for Afghanistan the key issue is whether Pakistan's civilian government is able to strengthen its control over Pakistan's military and its intelligence service, the ISI, which has been accused of supporting cross-border attacks into Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan's tribal regions.

"Until the Afghan file has been transferred from Pakistan's Army and intelligence to the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad -- which is the civilian government -- we cannot say that the situation will improve [in Afghanistan] as a result of Musharraf's resignation," Waziri says.

Nasim Zehra, an Islamabad-based journalist and security analyst who works as a research fellow at Harvard University's Asia Center, says that the civilian government must act quickly to strengthen itself after years in which Musharraf had been strengthening the powers of the presidency.

"It's very clear that we need to ensure that there are stringent reporting lines [for civilian government oversight of the ISI]. But you've got to do it the right way," Zehra says.

"There is a Defense Cabinet Committee. You have committees in the parliament, in the Senate, etc. That is the avenue available. And part of the institutional assertion -- constitutional supremacy of the parliament -- means that the parliament also gets down to serious work and strengthens itself," she adds. "So that issue remains there and is very crucial and important to Pakistanis themselves."

For Mahmud Khan Asakzai, leader of the Pashtunkhwa Mili Awami Party in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, Musharraf's resignation is good enough news. Asakzai has been a key figure in an anti-Musharraf movement that has been calling for his resignation for more than a year. He says that Musharraf has spared Pakistan a difficult political crisis by resigning now instead of trying to battle the impeachment attempt.

"He did well for himself and for the country," Asakzai says. "If he had stayed in power there would have been a crisis. There would have been a campaign against him for impeachment. His resignation was necessary at this moment in time."

Mohammad Ilyas, a Peshawar resident and supporter of conservative Islamists, agrees that Musharraf's resignation is a positive development for Pakistan.

"It is as if the flag of Islam has been raised," Ilyas says. "Musharraf was an idiot. He was not the right person. God knows whose agent he was -- the Americans or someone else. He didn't do anything good for us in the past five, six, even seven years."

Meanwhile, in Europe, the German Foreign Ministry said Berlin expects Pakistan's next president to help bring stability to neighboring Afghanistan, to fight terrorism, and to bolster democracy.

Ministry spokesman Stefan Bredohl told reporters that Berlin considers it "crucial" for the West to have a partner in Islamabad who not only has an eye on the situation in Pakistan, but also on regional stability.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report

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