- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A top ruling-party official on Saturday gave Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf a two-day deadline to quit or face impeachment proceedings.

Mr. Musharraf’s allies insisted he was not stepping down and was prepared to fight impeachment charges, but pressure on the president mounted after the ruling party drew up a draft of charges to support a potential impeachment.

“Musharraf is running out of time,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters. “If he fails to decide to quit within the next two days, the impeachment process will take its course.”

Mr. Qureshi is a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, the dominant group in the ruling coalition, which announced its intentions last week to impeach Mr. Musharraf.

The building momentum to throw the president out of office has injected even more uncertainty into an already volatile situation in Pakistan, a country whose stability the U.S. considers critical to success in the war on terror.

Mr. Musharraf dominated Pakistan after seizing power in a 1999 military coup, making the country a key strategic ally of the U.S. by supporting its fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. But his popularity at home has been dwindling.

Many Pakistanis blame rising violence in their country on his alliance with the United States. Mr. Musharraf’s popularity sank to new lows in 2007 when he ousted judges and imposed emergency rule. Then his rivals came to power after February parliamentary elections, largely sidelining him.

The United States has said publicly the impeachment debate is an internal matter. Pakistan’s army, which Mr. Musharraf formerly headed, also has remained neutral.

There is no precedent for impeaching a president in Pakistan’s turbulent 61-year history.

Under the constitution, a president can be impeached for violating the constitution or “gross misconduct.” Coalition officials have said Mr. Musharraf’s removal of judges and imposition of emergency rule last year could be cause for impeachment.

Coalition officials said Saturday they have completed a draft of the impeachment charges but it still needs approval from party leaders.

Whether Mr. Musharraf decides to quit could depend on what his rivals are willing to offer - particularly whether they will give him immunity from prosecution and let him stay in the country.

But the ruling coalition appears divided on those questions.

Sadiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the party of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif - whom Mr. Musharraf ousted in the 1999 coup - insisted immunity was out of the question.

Mr. Sharif’s party is the second-largest in the coalition, and it has said Mr. Musharraf should be tried for treason, which carries a maximum punishment of death.

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

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