Pervez Musharraf (photo, from huffingtonpost.com), Pakistani president went on national TV to say that he is resigning, as he faces impeachment on charges drawn up by the governing coalition. He said that although he was confident the charges would not stand, this was not the time for more confrontation.
President Musharraf is accused of violation of the constitution and gross misconduct.
Automatically, Muhammad Mian Sumroo, the speaker of the Pakistani Senate, took over as caretaker president.
Since 1999, when he took power in a bloodless coup, Mr Musharraf has been a key ally of the US in its “war on terror”.
According to the BBC’s Mark Dummett, reporting from Islamabad, reaction in Pakistan is overwhelmingly one of relief that a bruising and lengthy impeachment battle has been avoided.
He adds that now the key issue is whether the ruling coalition, that had pushed for Mr Musharraf’s exit since winning the February election, can stay united and deliver on its promises. In order to do that, it will have to agree on a new president, as well as persuade allies like the US and UK, and its neighbours like India and Afghanistan, that it will be committed to defeating militancy and terrorism.
With the US hailing Mr Musharraf as a strong ally against terrorism, and Afghanistan welcoming his departure as a boost to democracy, the Pakistani president’s resignation brought mixed international reaction.
Looking calm and dressed soberly in a dark suit and tie, Mr Musharraf made a defiant speech, in which he said he had believed it was his destiny to save Pakistan, helped by God, and that he had prevented it from being declared a terrorist state. He added that he had decided to resign after consulting his allies and advisers.
Making a clear reference to his political opponents, Mr Musharraf accused unnamed elements of putting themselves above the country and seeking to betray it.
While conceding he had made mistakes, he said : “Not a single charge can be proved against me.”
He added that the country would have been plunged into more uncertainty by an impeachment process, and it was no time for “individual bravado”.
The outgoing president also listed social, economic and infrastructural improvements made during his rule.
“I leave myself in the hands of the people”, he concluded.
After making his speech, the former military leader inspected a guard of honour outside his white palace in Islamabad, stepped into a black limousine and left the presidency.
In order to celebrate Mr Musharraf’s departure, cheering crowds poured into the streets of Pakistan’s big cities, and in Karachi, lawyers danced in jubilation.(photo, from aljazeera.net)
The caretaker president is a member of the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, and the eventual new president must be elected by both houses of Pakistan’s parliament and the four provincial assemblies.
Mr Musharraf has been praised as a “friend to the United States and one of the world’s most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism” by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who reacted to news of the resignation.
Saying the US would work with Pakistan’s new leaders, she pressed on them the need to stem “the growth of extremism”.
Although the UK government wished Mr Musharraf well, it stressed that relations did not depend on one individual.
Hope for democracy
Saying it was an internal matter for Pakistan, India said it had no comment to make, and Afghanistan, other neighbouring country, hoped democracy in both countries would be boosted by Mr Musharraf’s departure. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, had a very fraught relationship with his Pakistani counterpart.
Mr Musharraf resigned after more than a year of turbulence.
Last March, when he confronted the judiciary, suspending the chief justice, marked the beginning of the unrest. Then, his decision, which provoked widespread strikes and protests, was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Though Pervez Musharraf won the presidential election in October, the Supreme Court refused to confirm the result and in November he declared a state of emergency. He cited increasing attacks by militants and gave up his main power base by standing down as head of the army.
The two main opposition parties won a clear victory in the parliamentary election in February and earlier this month, the coalition reached a deal which aimed at impeaching the president, finalising their charges against him hours before he stepped down.