Exit Musharraf, ignominious end for a vain dictator (Nightlead)

August 18th, 2008 - 8:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Aug 18 (IANS) Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf Monday finally bowed out of office to avoid impeachment, triggering celebrations in a country he ruled for almost nine long years before an avalanche of democracy brought his career to an ignominious end.Musharraf, 65, announced in a nationally televised speech that he was resigning as president in “the best interest of the country”. He did not say if he planned to remain in Pakistan or go abroad - amid speculation that he might settle down in Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

Faced with a litany of charges including murder, a visibly subdued Musharraf said he wanted to avoid facing an impeachment Pakistan’s ruling coalition was planning to bring against him.

“It is not a time of individual bravado,” he said in an emotional address delivered in Urdu. “Whether I win or lose the impeachment, this country will be defeated.”

Musharraf, who as the army chief seized power in October 1999 in a bloodless coup ousting the government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, ruled the world’s second most populous Islamic nation for eight years, 10 months and six days. Only two other military rulers, Ayub Khan and Zia ul Haq, had presided over Pakistan’s destiny longer than him - with equally disastrous consequences.

A staunch backer of the Taliban in Afghanistan and separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, Musahrraf’s world started falling apart after 9/11. Forced by the US to dump the Taliban, Musharraf ended up becoming the most valuable ally in the US war on terror, angering Islamic groups in his country and abroad. In the process, he survived two assassination attempts.

On Monday, as Musharraf announced his decision to resign towards the end of his hour-long rambling speech, celebrations broke out across Pakistan. Besides political activists, even the middle class distributed sweets.

But even while departing, there was no love lost between Musharraf and the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which was to originally have a deal with him before former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in December changed the face of Pakistan’s turbulent politics.

While Musharraf blamed the current rulers repeatedly in his speech, insisting that an economy that he said was good only eight months ago was now in a bad shape, human rights activist Amina Ali said: “All dictators meet such a fate. He should not be spared for his misdeeds.”

Ahsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the political force most bitterly opposed to him, added: “He should face the courts and should be tried for abrogating the constitution and for his anti-democratic acts.”

Political and military sources said that Musharraf was originally planning to take on the ruling coalition, which Sunday gave a 24-hour deadline to resign. He changed his mind after army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, his handpicked successor, told him that the military would not back him any more.

The ruling coalition was jubilant.

“This is the right step; otherwise we were ready to table the impeachment motion in the parliament,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman told IANS.

“This (resignation) is certainly going to improve the political situation in the country and will lead to stability,” leading businessman Akram Sohaib Motiwala told IANS.

Indeed, soon after Musharraf’s speech, the Pakistani rupee gained 1.20 against the US dollar and the KSE-100 index of the country’s main stock market in Karachi - which had witnessed an unprecedented slide in the last three months - rose by 5.2 percent.

Musharraf’s speech was telecast live from the Army House, from where he ruled Pakistan.

He counted his government’s successes, saying he took power when the country was to be declared a terrorist state and financially a failed state. “I worked my level best to bring the country at par with the top developing nations.”

Musharraf explained that he resigned because he wanted to avoid confrontation and further division with his political opponents, stating this would have only created instability in Pakistan.

“My attempt was always in creating an atmosphere of reconciliation. No victimisation, no vendetta,” he said. “But a situation of confrontation was created instead of reconciliation.”

He said he wanted to contribute and help the coalition government to run Pakistan. “Unfortunately they saw me as the problem not the solution.”

Musharraf ended his speech in an almost choked voice, praying for the country’s prosperity: “I have fought for almost 44 years for my country and am ready to lay down my life… My decision is to save the country.”

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