Time Seems to Be Running Out for Pakistan's Embattled President

Pressure builds for Pervez Musharraf to resign and leave the country.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf responds to people gathered during his farewell ceremony in Islamabad.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

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KARACHI, Pakistan—Pakistan's embattled President Pervez Musharraf may resign to avoid facing impeachment after the country's powerful army and intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, have refused to stand with him.

Most notably, the head of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who owes his post to Musharraf, has signaled that the military will not block the civilian government from moving against the president. "The army chief has told him [Musharraf] very clearly that he will have to face the impeachment on his own. The army will not be a party between him and the civilian government," a close aide to Musharraf, who has met him twice during last week, tells U.S. News.

The aide, who is also a senior politician and asked not to be named, says that he and Musharraf's other supporters have advised him to resign. "His body language suggested to me that he is not willing to face the parliament. He thinks it will be a matter of shame for him if he will have to appear before the parliament," the pro-Musharraf politician said.

However, it is still possible that Musharraf will decide to try to face down his opponents, which could lead to weeks or even months of political confusion.

Reports are circulating that the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, is trying to help arrange a face-saving departure for Musharraf. Among key issues are whether Musharraf would get legal immunity in return for stepping down without impeachment and whether, as his opponents are demanding, he would have to leave the country.

Analysts here downplay the risk that Musharraf's ouster will fuel further instability in a country that has experienced four military coups since its founding in 1947. Pakistan has spent more than half its existence under military rule.

Musharraf, who has been a key U.S. ally, is a former general who initially took power in a 1999 military coup. Under domestic and international pressure, Musharraf permitted a transition to civilian rule and gave up his uniform to remain as president.

Now, Musharraf is facing the toughest time in his political life as the parliament's four-party ruling alliance advances toward his impeachment by the first week of September. He is expected to face a long list of charges that would include corruption, economic mismanagement, and violating the Constitution.

At present, it seems the military is staying on the sidelines, though by doing so it is effectively siding with those seeking Musharraf's ouster. The military leadership appears to want Musharraf to fade away rather than put up a public fight that could bring disclosures that tarnish the military's image or raise questions about its current activities.

One factor that complicates the current talks is the bad blood between Musharraf and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf and forced into exile but has since returned to play a key political role in civilian politics. Sharif, who leads the second-biggest party in the ruling coalition, has said that he opposes granting the president legal immunity. Sharif's party has previously said Musharraf should be tried for treason, which carries the death penalty.

According to the Constitution, an impeachment motion requires support by two thirds of the National Assembly and the Senate. Under current alignments, the ruling alliance appears to have 10 more votes than needed for impeachment.

The Pakistan Peoples Party of the slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto holds 125 seats in the 342-member National Assembly; Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League has 91 seats; the left-wing Awami National Party has 13; and Jamiat Ulema Islam has 10 seats. Some 18 independent members have announced support for the impeachment motion.

Musharraf received a setback when more than two dozen of his parliamentary allies ditched him and said they would support the ruling alliance on the impeachment issue.

In the Senate, the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League holds 38 of the 100 seats, on paper enough to block impeachment. But party sources admit that some 18 of its senators have refused to give support to Musharraf.