Negotiations between the Pakistani government and President Pervez Musharraf, aimed at securing his resignation before impeachment, are stalling, with only days left before proceedings begin in parliament, according to politicians involved in the talks.
The coalition government had hoped to pressure the president to quit before the messy and risky impeachment process starts.
American and British diplomats also have tried to mediate a compromise to allow Musharraf a safe exit. Once a motion is moved in parliament, which is scheduled for early next week, it will be difficult for Pakistan's unsteady coalition government to let him go, leaving perhaps 48 hours to reach a deal.
In what's turning out to be the former army chief's last stand, Musharraf is refusing to go down without a fight. He's insisting that he receive immunity from prosecution and that he'll live in Pakistan, conditions that are hard for the government to meet, officials in the coalition government said.
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“We're hitting a wall now and we're so close” to impeachment proceedings, said one senior member of the coalition, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It's this commando thing of his. His living here would be like a red rag to a bull. He wants to be photographed playing golf and taking it easy.”
In Washington, the White House, which has issued staunch proclamations of support for Musharraf, seemed on Friday to back away from its closest South Asian ally.
“We've seen the press reports you're referring to, but these are all matters for the Pakistani political system and for the Pakistanis to deal with,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. “We certainly hope that any actions that they take are consistent with the rule of law and constitutional principles, but I want to be clear these are matters for the Pakistanis to determine.”
The coalition government wants Musharraf to leave Pakistan, for at least a year or two, until emotions cool, according to officials close to the negotiations.
In particular, Nawaz Sharif, a coalition leader who was thrown out of office by the military coup that Musharraf staged in 1999, would find it personally and politically difficult to have the president remain in the country and immune from prosecution.
It's unclear where Musharraf would go. The United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia had been the favorite possibilities but it's now being suggested that Britain might take him in.