Karachi: Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, the dictator who reinvented himself as a US ally against terrorism, resigned to avoid facing impeachment charges for illegally seizing power and mishandling the economy.
“This is not time for individual bravado. I lose or win in impeachment proceedings, the Pakistani nation will be the loser,” Musharraf, 65, said in a one-hour address to the nation. “After taking advice from my supporters and friends, I have decided to resign in the best interests of the nation.”
What next: Pakistani lawyers in Lahore listen as Pervez Musharraf, in his last televised appearance as president on Monday, announces his resignation, ending an eight-year tenure. Photograph: KM Chaudary / AP
Musharraf’s departure after a six-month stand-off frees up the coalition government to tackle an economy growing at the slowest pace since 2003. It will also test the durability of a fragile coalition that has been criticized for not doing enough to fight militants on the border with Afghanistan.
“This is the opportune moment for the government now,” said Alok Bansal, an analyst at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. “Unless they show tenacity now, the coalition may splinter.”
Musharraf will be replaced by Mohammedmian Soomro, chairman of the Senate and a Musharraf loyalist, pending a parliamentary vote to choose a new president within 30 days. Pakistan’s benchmark stock index rose the most in seven weeks and the rupee gained after the announcement.
Musharraf was the army commander in 1999 when he overthrew prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has led calls to remove the president since. Pakistanis were frustrated with a decade of corrupt and ineffective governments under Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, and opinion polls showed 70% of people supported the coup.
A former special services commando, Musharraf put Sharif on trial for alleged corruption and in a deal brokered by the Saudi royal family, the former PM was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia. Musharraf’s government also pursued corruption charges against Bhutto, leading her to remain in Dubai and London until she returned last year, only to be assassinated soon after. Musharraf didn’t say today whether he plans to remain in Pakistan or go into exile.
The former general has been under pressure to quit since he fired 60 judges, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry last year, leading to nationwide street protests. The government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, which came to power in March after defeating pro-Musharraf parties in the 18 February elections, vowed to reinstate the senior judiciary but has been unable to agree on how to do so.
“When he saw impeachment coming, he decided to resign because he couldn’t sack the government,” Sharif’s spokesman Siddiq-ul-Farooq said in a telephone interview from Islamabad.
“We hope the judiciary will be reinstated very soon now.”
Musharraf assumed the presidency in 2001 and was re-elected in October. When opposition parties said law barred Musharraf from standing while he still headed the military, he handed control of the army to Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in November.
After the attacks of 11 September 2001, Musharraf abandoned the army’s sponsorship of the Taliban in Afghanistan and allied with the US. His government was the largest recipient of US aid in Asia after Afghanistan, more than $10 billion in six years.
Musharraf was credited for steering Pakistan’s economy out of trouble in 1999 when the government had less than $1 billion in foreign exchange reserves. He brought in former Citigroup Inc. executive Shaukat Aziz to run the finance ministry and the nation’s economy expanded at an average annual 7.5% in the four years ending 30 June 2007.
Karachi Stock Exchange gained 10-fold since 2001 and investment from overseas including China Mobile, Standard Chartered Plc. and Emirates Telecommunications Co., reached a record $8.4 billion last year.
The main stock index, which has fallen 24% this year, rose 4.5% to 10,719.62. The rupee rose 1.1% to 75.60 against the US dollar, paring its 22% decline this year.
Musharraf has faced criticism for a slowing economy, a widening budget deficit and an inability to rein in inflation. In his speech, he denied charges his policies had stunted economic growth, calling such allegations “baseless.”
Musharraf started the IndiaPakistan peace process by initiating a ceasefire across the border in October 2003 and pushing several so-called confidence-building measures including bus services and cultural exchanges.
“I don’t think any other leader would have had that kind of commitment,” said Suba Chandran, deputy director of Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi. “He is the person behind the peace process and he was the first Pakistani leader to reorient Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir and ensure intra-Kashmiri interaction. His leaving would create a void.”
Musharraf considers himself a religious moderate who enjoys playing bridge and listening to classical music. He preached “enlightened moderation” as a way forward for Pakistan, the world’s second most populous Muslim nation after Indonesia.
Musharraf has survived at least four assassination attempts since he ended support for the Taliban regime.
The former army chief was born on 11 August 1943, in Delhi, emigrating to Pakistan in 1947 at the age of five. He lived in Turkey from 1949 to 1956 where his father was a diplomat.
He attended St. Patrick’s school in Karachi and then joined the army, graduating from the Pakistan Military Academy. Musharraf was commissioned in the artillery regiment of the army in 1964 and later joined the Special Services Group as a commando, according to his profile released by the army.
After serving in two wars with India—in 1965 and 1971—he became a general in 1991 and chief of the army in October 1998. He has been frequently criticized by the US for “not doing enough” to fight terror. As many as 2,000 people were killed in suicide attacks and bombings in Pakistan last year.