Reports of Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf's decision to step down by Sunday and avoid a parliamentary impeachment which could begin on Monday, does little to end internal political discord in the U.S.-backed south Asian country, senior Western diplomats warned late Thursday night.
The warnings from diplomats followed confirmation to CBS News from two senior Pakistani government officials who both said president Musharraf had decided to step down by Sunday. They officials spoke on condition that they would not be named due to the sensitivity of the information.
(A spokesman for Musharraf is denying that he is set to resign or seeking legal immunity to do so.)
Just before stepping down, Musharraf would hand charge to Mohammad Mian Soomro, chairman of Pakistan's senate and next in line to the president. Soomro will then continue as acting president of the country till fresh elections and held within six to twelve weeks, according to one of the two Pakistani government officials who spoke to CBS News.
News of Musharraf's departure will present the U.S. with the dilemma of re-establishing close relations with a new Pakistani president, especially to carry on close coordination between the two countries in the U.S. led war on terror. But questions remain over the way such a transition would work.
"President Musharraf is being forced out by a ruling coalition government which includes parties such as the Pakistan People's Party (of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif). These parties have been sworn enemies in Pakistan and have come together only for the cause of opposing Musharraf," said one senior Western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "What would hold such parties together once president Musharraf is gone? Would they (parties) then squabble amongst themselves?" asked the diplomat.
But one of the two government officials who spoke to CBS News and revealed information surrounding Musharraf's expected departure, said a saving grace in Pakistani politics was the neutrality of the powerful military under the command of General Ashfaq Kiyani, the chief of army staff, who took charge of the military after Musharraf retired from the army in May last year. General Kiyani has moved quickly to distance the military from politics. "If the military remains neutral, then there is a chance that political parties will learn to become more mature over a period of time, and we won't have petty infighting of the kind which has broken parties and political alliances in the past," said the government official who requested anonymity.
The Pakistani military remains a powerful player, having twice seized power in Pakistan during the country's 61-year history. In recent days, western diplomats have said, Musharraf's credentials were severely weakened and he was forced to resign only after General Kiyani informed the president that the army would remain neutral in the country's ongoing political turmoil. That turmoil gathered momentum on August 7 when leaders of Pakistan's ruling parties publicly announced their intention to impeach Musharraf.