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Pakistan's Government Agrees To Begin Musharraf Impeachment

President Pervez Musharraf
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's ruling coalition led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has agreed to begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf, a move that is likely to deepen political instability in the country.

"Yes, we have agreed in principle to impeach him," a senior coalition official told Reuters.

The official said the leaders of the coalition are expected to announce the decision at a news conference later on August 7.

The move against the U.S. ally in the war against terrorism would almost certainly plunge the nuclear-armed Muslim nation into a new bout of political instability unless the former army chief, who came to power in a coup nine years ago, decided to go quietly.

Musharraf has become increasingly unpopular at home and has lost parliamentary support after his allies suffered a humiliating defeat in February elections, but he has resisted calls to stand down.

The coalition led by Bhutto's widower and political successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has been negotiating the fate of Musharraf since August 5.

While Musharraf has not yet commented on the impending move against him, his allies have said he would fight the impeachment.

Musharraf has previously said he would resign rather than face impeachment proceedings but Pakistani political circles are awash with speculation that he could dismiss parliament, even though he has said he would not.

The response of the army to the prospect of a humiliating exit for its former chief will be crucial.

Army commanders met in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad, on August 7 but a military official said, "it was a routine meeting".

"The meeting will continue on Friday [August 8] in which they will discuss issues relating to promotions of brigadiers and other senior officers," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Last November, Musharraf passed command of the army to General Ashfaq Kayani, who had previously headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Kayani has tried to withdraw the army from politics but he maintained close ties with the president.

The political uncertainty has taken a toll on Pakistani markets, with the main share index at its weakest in nearly 23 months and the rupee headed back towards all-time lows posted in early July.

Musharraf, due to go to China early on August 7 to attend opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, delayed his departure because of the uncertainty hanging over him. He has already put off the visit by a day.