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Pakistan: Pressures piles on Musharraf to step down as president

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  1. BAK

    BAK JF-Expert Member

    Jun 6, 2008
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    Pakistan: Pressures piles on Musharraf to step down as president

    Declan Walsh in Islamabad guardian.co.uk,
    Thursday June 5 2008

    Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, is coming under increasing pressure to step aside. Photograph: EPA

    Nobody knows how or when, but according to a growing consensus inside Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf's days as president are slowing coming to an end.

    A flurry of political tirades, aggressive news reports and changes to sensitive army positions have fuelled speculation that Musharraf is considering retirement.

    The talk has hit the streets, where rumours are rife of frenetic bag-packing and a newly arrived jet to whisk Musharraf into foreign retirement. Stock prices dived last week as a result of the rumours.

    Musharraf aides, meanwhile, insist their boss is going nowhere. "This is absolute lies. He's not packed even his golf bag," said his spokesman Rashid Qureshi.

    Qureshi, a long-time loyalist, said Musharraf was being smeared by the Jang group, a media conglomerate whose television stations were temporarily shut by Musharraf last year.

    And he rejected fresh demands by the Ex-Servicemen's Association - which includes several retired generals -- that Musharraf should stand trial for treason. "They represent a miniscule percentage of officers," he said. "Its all a rumour factory now."

    What's certain is that Musharraf faces a widening array of foes including several powerful figures.

    Asif Zardari, the leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, recently floated a package of reforms that would strip Musharraf of his powers.

    The increasingly popular Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf in 1999, issued an emotional outburst calling him a "traitor".

    Pakistan's lawyers are adding to Musharraf's problems and plan to march on parliament next week. If that fails to dislodge the president, they say, they will converge on his residence.

    The strife is distracting the government from pressing issues, such as militant violence and a plunging economy. Musharraf's military comrades may also be losing patience.

    Last week the army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, removed a Musharraf loyalist from command of the Triple One Brigade in Rawalpindi - commonly known as the "coup brigade" for its central role in Pakistan's military takeovers. Meanwhile AQ Khan, the rogue scientist who confessed to selling nuclear secrets in 2004, has been mysteriously allowed to return to public life.

    In a stream of telephone interviews from his home, where he is still held under house arrest, Khan slammed Musharraf and claimed he had turned the country into a "banana republic". One government minister told The Guardian that such comments could only be made with military approval.

    "The pressure is mounting on him. The army is really putting its cards on the table," said Talat Hussain, a television commentator who estimated Musharraf would last "two months maximum".

    But previous predications of Musharraf's demise have proven false - and he can still count on one significant friend. As he swatted away criticism last week, the US president, George Bush, phoned to offer his unbending support.

    "He indicated he looks forward to President Musharraf's continuing role in further strengthening US-Pakistani relations," a White House spokewoman said afterwards.

    Bush wants to avoid a Musharraf meltdown in a US election year, but for critics in Pakistan, the call was symptomatic of all that is wrong with Musharraf.

    "George Bush is sticking to this line that he must not go without dignity," said General Hamid Gul, a retired spy chief. "The question is, how long?"