New Delhi (CNSNews.com) – As Pakistan’s embattled President Pervez Musharraf edged closer to impeachment Thursday, a former prime minister accused him of killing political opponents and destroying legal institutions.
Nawaz Sharif, whose government was toppled in the 1999 coup that brought Musharraf to power, made the accusation in the wake of an impeachment motion brought against the U.S.-backed president by the ruling coalition government.
Speaking to India’s NDTV, Sharif insisted he was not being vindictive, despite having been forcibly removed from office, convicted on terrorism and corruption charges and exiled for about eight years.
He said Musharraf must be “brought to book” for illegally sacking Supreme Court judges last year and other actions.
When he took power in 1999, Musharraf – then an army general – derecognized Pakistan’s 1973 constitution. Over the ensuing years, according to the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, hundreds of civilians, including political figures, have been killed, tortured, abducted or disappeared.
A public protest movement led by lawyers and opposition activists last year, a deteriorating internal security situation and growing international pressure compelled him to step down as army chief, call national legislative elections, and release jailed political opponents.
In the elections, held last February, Musharraf’s allies were defeated and his adversaries – Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto – formed a coalition government.
Sharif has been pushing for Musharraf’s removal, and the initially ambivalent PPP came round earlier this month, agreeing that he should be impeached for alleged violations of the constitution.
A National Assembly session on Monday began the proceedings, and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari predicted success, saying there was sufficient support in parliament for his removal.
A vote is scheduled for next week. To succeed, the motion needs the support of two-thirds of the members of a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate. The country’s four provincial assemblies are also required to pass resolutions against Musharraf. Three have done so, and the fourth, in Balochistan, is expected to follow suit as early as Friday.
In a speech marking the 61st anniversary of Pakistan’s independence on Thursday, Musharraf did not refer directly to the impeachment proceedings but called for a “reconciliatory approach” to restore political stability. Sharif and Zardari separately both rejected the appeal.
Amid speculation that Musharraf may have been waiting for Independence Day to be over before resigning, possibly in exchange for safe passage out of the country, most observers contend he will not go quietly.
Islamabad-based security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said if Musharraf did choose to fight the charges, “a lot of muck may come out in the open” as he has been privy to many state secrets.
Paradoxically, Musharraf’s departure may be causing more worry in India than in Pakistan, because of regional security concerns.
India’s National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said India was concerned that the impeachment may leave a “big vacuum.”
Narayanan said the president’s departure would provide “radical extremist outfits with freedom to do what they like, not merely on the Pak-Afghan border but clearly on our side of the border too.”
Although nearly 800 terror cells operating inside India with “external support” had been exposed, he said, terrorist masterminds were still at large, possibly taking refuge in Pakistan.
Noted Pakistani analyst Ardeshir Cowasjee agreed that Taliban militants, operating in north-west Pakistan’s tribal belt, would also likely “exploit the official paralysis” that would follow the removal of Musharraf, who has been an important ally in the U.S.-led campaign against terror launched after 9/11.
Predicting that the main political parties would probably squabble once the presidential seat was vacant, Cowasjee warned that impeachment may hasten a collapse of the coalition, at a time of economic stagnation of an “alarming advance of the forces of Talibanization.”
More than 1,000 people have been killed in bombings in Pakistan over the past year. On Thursday, a suicide bombing in Lahore killed eight people. Two days earlier, 14 air force personnel died in a blast in the North-West Frontier Province, claimed by the Taliban. More than 100 radicals have been killed in military operations in the nearby tribal belt, according to the army.
How the army reacts to the attempt to remove the president remains an issue of debate.
Journalist Huma Yusuf said political instability could lead to the end of civilian rule, noting that the army has historically viewed a power vacuum as an invitation to intervene.
Current Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani has steered clear of politics, but RAND corporation Pakistan expert Christine Fair believes the army will be “pretty active in subverting an impeachment” so as to avoid messy proceedings that could smear its reputation.
Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, told the Voice of America that “impeachment could force the army and the one-time general back into each other’s arms.”
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)