Saturday, August 16, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Talks are under way that could lead to the resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf or reduce his role to that of a figurehead as the ruling coalition steps up pressure to impeach him, an ally of the embattled leader said Friday.

However, a spokesman for Mr. Musharraf denied that he was about to step down.

Political opponents of the president have suggested that he could resign within days before an impeachment process that could begin as early as next week. But Mr. Musharraf’s office said an impeachment could drag on for months because the procedure is not laid out in the constitution and there is no precedent in Pakistan’s turbulent 61-year history.

Former army chief Mr. Musharraf dominated Pakistan after seizing power in a 1999 military coup, gaining favor from the United States after supporting it in the war on terror. But his rivals won February parliamentary elections and formed a coalition that has already largely sidelined him and is now seeking to push him out of office.

Both allies and rivals of Mr. Musharraf confirm that there are discussions in progress that could lead to the president’s resignation.

“There are a lot of background talks going on, whereby a way is trying to be found so that there is no impeachment,” Sen. Tariq Azim, a top official in the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, said Friday.

He said resignation along with legal protections such as immunity was one option, and another was stripping the presidency down to a figurehead role. However, coalition officials rejected the idea of reducing his powers, insisting that he must go.

Asked whether Mr. Musharraf had decided to quit, Mr. Azim told the Associated Press that he was still weighing his options.

“There are people who are advising him to avoid confrontation, but I don’t think he has made up his mind.”

Mr. Azim said all sides agreed that an impeachment battle would strain the country at a time when it already faces critical challenges, such as a faltering economy and an emboldened Islamic militant movement.

“It is at the moment that Pakistan cannot afford confrontation,” Mr. Azim said. “And it’s obvious that the present government and President Musharraf cannot get along. So it is in the best interest of Pakistan that some way is found whereby this mode of confrontation can be changed or can be more conciliatory.”

Musharraf spokesman Rashid Qureshi denied the president was about to resign or was seeking legal immunity in order to do so.

“These unsubstantiated spate of reports are totally baseless and malicious,” Mr. Qureshi said. He said such talk was having a “negative impact” on the country’s economy.

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

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