ISLAMABAD -- Speculation swirled in Pakistan on August 17 that a deal would be reached shortly enabling President Pervez Musharraf to resign without fear of prosecution, avoiding a divisive impeachment process.
Talk of resignation by former army chief and firm U.S. ally Musharraf has been mounting since the coalition government, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said this month it planned to impeach him.
Prolonged jockeying and uncertainty over Musharraf's position has already hurt Pakistan's financial markets and raised concern among the United States and other allies it is distracting from efforts to control violent militants in the nuclear-armed nation.
Saudi Arabian representatives were trying to broker a deal to protect and save face for Musharraf, a senior security official told Reuters.
"Some dignitaries have arrived here to mediate. A Saudi Royal Air Force plane is parked at Chaklala [air base] so the matter could be a day or two," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Reports that Saudi Arabia -- a key political and financial backer of fellow Muslim country Pakistan -- was mediating have been denied by both sides of the controversy.
Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and the leader of her party, said on August 17: "Some foreign dignitaries might have arrived but we don't know and none of the foreign visitors contacted Mr. Zardari."
Asked about possible indemnity for Musharraf if he quits, Babar told Reuters: "Our position is very clear that it's up to the coalition and parliament to decide on the issue."
The ruling coalition has prepared impeachment charges against Musharraf focusing on violation of the constitution and misconduct. There have also been reports it is looking into possible misuse of funds in Musharraf's foreign travels.
"The draft has been given a final shape and by tomorrow or the day after, it'll be presented to the coalition leadership and hopefully, an impeachment motion with charge sheet will be moved this week," Information Minister Sherry Rehman, on the committee assigned to draft the charge sheet, told reporters on August 17.
The nature of the charges has Musharraf's camp worried he might face prosecution even if he leaves office without a fight.
The president's spokesman has insisted Musharraf would not resign but would face the accusations.
However, coalition and other sources are adamant negotiations have been going on, adding that U.S. and British representatives have also been involved despite denials.
Western countries appreciate Musharraf's efforts to contain Islamic militants who have provided shelter for the Taliban and al Qaeda near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Asked if the government was considering giving a safe exit for Musharraf if he quits, Rehman said: "We are not interested in politics of vendetta.... We want political stability and the government's focus should be on the people's betterment."
The political jockeying over Musharraf's fate has sapped investor confidence and there has been criticism it has distracted government attention from economic problems.
Pakistani stocks are near two-year lows, while its currency has lost nearly a quarter of its value this year. Pakistan also faces major fiscal problems, with Saudi Arabia's help critical to defer an estimated $5.9 billion worth of oil payments.
Musharraf, then a general and the army chief, seized power in a 1999 coup. His popularity began to evaporate last year when he clashed with the judiciary and imposed a stint of emergency rule to thwart opposition to his efforts to secure another term.
Musharraf's November 3 imposition of emergency rule is a main charge on the impeachment list, coalition officials say.
Efforts to give immunity to Musharraf could face a roadblock from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the main coalition partner of Bhutto's party. It was Sharif who was removed from power in Musharraf's coup.