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Deal on Musharraf’s exit is close, officials say

Times Staff Writer

Discussions aimed at setting terms for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation continued through intermediaries here Friday, according to politicians familiar with the talks, and some reports said an accord was close.

The president’s spokesman, retired Gen. Rashid Qureshi, denied that any agreement had been reached for the beleaguered Musharraf to voluntarily step down.

Pakistani politicians and Western diplomats had said Thursday that Musharraf’s exit could be announced within days -- a move that would stave off a bruising impeachment battle that could begin in the coming week.

Sources within Pakistan’s ruling coalition, which has voiced determination to secure Musharraf’s resignation or otherwise impeach him, said representatives of the president had made various demands on his behalf, including full legal indemnity in exchange for an agreement for him to step aside.

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The deeply unpopular Musharraf remained in office as a civilian president after giving up leadership of Pakistan’s powerful military late last year. But his allied party was trounced in parliamentary elections in February, and the new government, led by former opposition figures, says it considers the vote a mandate that Musharraf should leave public life for good.

The former general seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and went on to become a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But Musharraf alienated many Pakistanis last year with his firing of senior judges and a six-week declaration of emergency rule, akin to martial law.

By day’s end Friday, the Muslim sabbath, no final agreement had been reached on questions such as whether Musharraf would be forced into exile or allowed to remain in Pakistan if he stepped down, according to a politician familiar with the talks but not authorized by the ruling party to speak publicly about them. However, AAJ TV reported late Friday that a Saudi mediator had met with both sides and that a deal probably would be announced over the weekend.

Musharraf has a farm outside Islamabad, the capital, and has expressed a desire to remain there rather than seek sanctuary in another country, the source said.

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Also Friday, a fourth and final regional assembly gave unanimous approval to a resolution calling on Musharraf to either quit or face a vote of confidence in the national and provincial legislatures. The vote by Baluchistan’s lawmakers was considered the last major prelude to a session of the national assembly next week, at which the impeachment process could begin.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman said a list of charges against Musharraf was being finalized and could be presented to lawmakers Monday or Tuesday.

Many analysts have said it would be difficult for Musharraf to resign voluntarily once impeachment proceedings began. However, the impeachment process could easily be delayed on technical grounds if the parties decided they wanted more time to talk.

The ruling coalition’s drive to eject Musharraf, too, could be complicated by constitutional vagueness concerning impeachment proceedings, and by the prospect that Pakistani courts -- which Musharraf filled with sympathetic judges -- could overturn any parliamentary vote to push him out.

As president, Musharraf technically has the authority to dissolve the government and the national assembly, but his use of that power is considered unlikely without the support of the military. The army’s new chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has sought to remove it from the political arena.

The political drama in Islamabad has overshadowed some of the heaviest fighting in years in Pakistan’s tribal areas between Islamic militants and government forces. About three dozen insurgents are thought to have died in the last two days in the Bajaur tribal agency near the Afghan border, many of them in helicopter gunship strikes by the military aimed at militant hide-outs.

Mullah Faqir Mohammed, a senior aide to the head of Pakistan’s Taliban movement, Baitullah Mahsud, was reported to have barely escaped a helicopter strike Thursday that killed 11 of his supporters.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.


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