Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has resigned to avoid facing impeachment. In a televised address, he said he wanted to spare Pakistan of an impeachment battle. The former military ruler was a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Scott Simon, covering today for Melissa, Robert and Michele. Opponents of Pervez Musharraf are calling his resignation today a major step for democracy. Some others are not so sure.
The Pakistani president stepped down rather than face impeachment. NPR's Philip Reeves is in the capital, Islamabad. He filed this story on reaction to Mr. Musharraf's resignation.
PHILIP REEVES: Musharraf made a defiant exit. He'd acted in good faith, he said. He was leaving to avoid further political confrontation that would have damaged the nation.
So what happens to Musharraf now? Some of his opponents want him placed on trial. Before resigning, Musharraf was pressing for an immunity deal. We don't yet know if he got one, nor do we know if Musharraf will stay in Pakistan -he's building a mansion on the edge of Islamabad - or if he'll go into exile, perhaps in the U.S. or Saudi Arabia.
Political commentator and former ambassador to Washington Tarik Fatame(ph).
Mr. TARIK FATAME (Former Ambassador to Washington): I think he leave the country for some time, then see how things develop back home. He's a very stubborn person. I'd always said that he would not walk away.
REEVES: The law says elections for a new president must be held within 30 days. Until then, the chairman of Pakistan's senate will be acting president.
Power has now shifted in Pakistan from the army and the presidency to the prime minister and parliament. We can expect the constitution to be changed to ensure the next president won't be able to dismiss the government.
With their mutual enemy, Musharraf, gone, will Pakistan's ruling coalition parties now be able to hold together? Its leaders - Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Zardari, and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif - have had big disagreements. Both men seem eager for power. Their parties have a long record of mutual hostility.
Former senior government official Tawab Sadiki(ph) is not optimistic.
Mr. TAWAB SADIKI (Former Senior Government Official): This coalition is not going to last. It has too many contradictions built in, and as we've already seen, there is bound to be a split.
REEVES: One area of possible friction is whether senior judges sacked by Musharraf will now be restored. This is a key demand of Sharif's and also of the country's legal and civil rights communities.
Zardari appears to be less enthusiastic. Analysts say he fears the restored judges may annul an amnesty organized by Musharraf, which allowed him and his wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, to return to Pakistan without fear of facing corruption charges.
As Pakistan adjusts to life without Musharraf, the mood seems subdued.
(Soundbite of political protest)
REEVES: This was one of several scattered celebrations in the capital, Islamabad, today after Musharraf announced his resignation. There were no mass festivities.
Pakistanis seemed to be reflecting on a general who never learnt how to play politics, a soldier who analysts say saw himself as a canny commando but sometimes had very little idea of what was going on at ground level.
President PERVEZ MUSHARRAF (Pakistan): If anyone says that I have become unpopular, I don't agree with that. I have my own methods of finding out, and I make sure of it.
REEVES: Fatame believes in the end, history will not look particularly kindly on Musharraf, although he says the general's rule started with hope.
Mr. FATAME: His primary constituency, the urban, educated, secular, liberal sections, were the ones who were the most deeply disappointed at the end of nine years.
REEVES: Abdul Haffis Pasada(ph), lawyer and adviser to Musharraf, thinks the world will soften its view with time.
Mr. ABDUL HAFFIS PASADA (Attorney): He has his pluses and his minuses. He has made some good things. He has been good for Pakistan, particularly in the initial years, and he has also committed some mistakes. When the dust settles down, history will be kinder to him than what appears to be the general perception today.
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Pakistan's constitution requires the country's parliament and provincial assemblies to elect a replacement for President Pervez Musharraf within 30 days. In the meantime, the chairman of the upper house of parliament, Mohammedmian Soomro, has taken over as acting president.
There is speculation that the leaders of the two main parties in the ruling coalition, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, may both be considering a bid for the presidency. Neither man has announced his intentions.
Both have said recently that they favored stripping away some of the powers that Musharraf garnered for the office during his nine-year rule, but a less-powerful presidency may also be less desirable to the political leaders.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resigned Monday morning in a live television address to the nation. Musharraf was a close U.S. ally in the volatile region and in the battle against al-Qaida.
Musharraf's resignation came as the ruling coalition government was moving to impeach him. His allies were fast fading away, and he was under pressure at home and abroad to quit. As it became clear he had virtually no support, Pakistan's longtime leader chose to bow out.
Looking somber, Musharraf spoke for an hour before finally making the announcement Pakistanis have been awaiting for days.
No Impeachment Worries
Musharraf said he was not worried about the impeachment but was leaving to avoid a confrontation that could damage the nation and the presidency.
Much of Musharraf's address was a defense of his record in office, but he acknowledged making mistakes and asked for Pakistan's forgiveness.
It is not clear whether he will stay in Pakistan or go into exile. Musharraf has been pressing for immunity from prosecution.
People celebrated Musharraf's departure outside offices of the Pakistan Peoples Party — the largest party in the coalition. They also honored the PPP's former leader, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated late last year.
Musharraf's departure ends nearly nine turbulent years in office.
"The real weakness of his, as I see it, is that he has never realized the importance of institutions," said political analyst Talat Masood. "He just leaves all the institutions of Pakistan so weak, including the political ones, who are to now run the affairs of the country."
Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 after then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to sack him as army chief. Musharraf's early days were rocky as he sought to solidify his position with an election and referendum that observers say were rigged.
An Ally Of The U.S.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Musharraf became a firm ally of the U.S., which channeled billions of dollars to Pakistan in exchange for Musharraf's support in the war on terrorism.
For a while, Musharraf seemed secure: The economy grew, relations with India improved, Pakistan's opposition parties were in disarray, and Musharraf's army was able to wield increasing influence over business and government.
Then, according to political commentator Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Musharraf made a critical error.
His undoing was his removal of the chief justice in March 2007, Rais says. "Onward, his standing was on shaky grounds, and the power began to slip away from him."
Musharraf sought to oust Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry because Musharraf feared Pakistan's supreme court would raise legal barriers to his re-election as president. The move backfired.
Lawyers and civil activists took to the streets demanding an independent judiciary, and one crisis followed another: There was public fury after more than 100 people were killed when Pakistani forces stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad after it was taken over by extremists. Then, in November, Musharraf declared a state of emergency — a six-week crackdown in which thousands of political activists were jailed, the media were gagged, and the general purged Pakistan's supreme court of his enemies.
Rais says Musharraf was the author of his own undoing.
"Musharraf was [a] hotheaded and impulsive political leader from Day 1 to the end," Rais says. "This was very unfortunate that he always put his personal ambitions ahead of the interests of the people of Pakistan."
On the streets, few mourned Musharraf's departure.
"For the last years he has been ruling the country, and he's been no good to it," said a banker who would give his name only as Ahmed. "So I think it is better that he has resigned and it's over now."
Many Pakistanis felt Musharraf was far too close to the U.S., and many are simply sick of politics. They will be hoping that their new civilian government can now get on with the job and do something about Pakistan's unraveling economy and Islamist militancy.