Musharraf ready to step down on his terms

President Pervez Musharraf is negotiating a backdoor deal with the ruling coalition under which he could resign in return for legal immunity, his close aide said Friday.

"Some friends of the president are talking to PPP (Pakistan People's Party) to win certain guarantees which can convince him to resign and amicably end the confrontation," said Tariq Azeem, a senior leader in Musharraf's political ally - Pakistan Muslim league-Quaid (PML-Q) - and former deputy information minister, dpa reported.

"Impeachment process has created political uncertainty which is harmful for the country. Foreign investors are moving out and the business activity is slowing down," he added. "This situation must end."

Pakistan's ruling coalition, which is lead by PPP, last week announced a parliamentary trial of Musharraf for "misconduct" and "violation of the constitution." The process gained momentum this week when local assemblies in three of the four provinces voted against him.

But the formal impeachment proceedings are expected to begin next week when the coalition plans to table a charge sheet against Musharraf in the parliament, where two-third majority in the upper and lower houses would be required to oust him.

A PPP official also confirmed that negotiations were underway with the president through his aides, hoping these would conclude "within the next few days."

"I think he will step down before we move the impeachment motion in the National Assembly next week," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said besides indemnity against his actions since 1999, when he took over in a bloodless coup, Musharraf is also seeking security for himself after the exit.

The beleaguered leader has survived three assassination bids by al-Qaeda operatives for his support for the US-led international fight against terrorism.

One of Musharraf's close friend and a businessman, who has been in constant contact with him since last week, said the "talks were moving in the right direction" and the president might quit over the weekend.

"The next 72 hours are very crucial and Mr. Musharraf will step down during this period. I think on Sunday or Monday, most probably Sunday, he will say adieu to his post," he said.

However, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), a senior partner in the ruling coalition, remains a stumbling block in the final deal between PPP and the president.

"We cannot accept any deal with him. The nation cannot forgive General Musharraf for violating the constitution," said senior PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Musharraf suspended the country's constitution and sacked more than 60 senior judges under an emergency order on November 3 when the Supreme Court was set to rule against his re-election for the second presidential term.

The move led to a sharp fall in his popularity and a thrashing defeat of his political backers in the February 18 elections.

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