White House Pushing Musharraf To Step Down

In this photo released by Pakistan's Press Information Department, President Pervez Musharraf speaks during a ceremony to mark the country's Independence Day, Aug. 13, 2008, in Islamabad.
Written for by Farhan Bokhari, reporting from Islamabad.
The Bush administration has quietly urged embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to step down voluntarily rather than prolong an ongoing political crisis and face impeachment, high-ranking Pakistani government officials and Western diplomats tell CBS News.

"U.S. officials have made it known to the president that it is best for him to step down and end this crisis," said one senior Pakistani government official familiar with messages conveyed to Musharraf from Washington during the last week.

Leaders of a newly-elected coalition government announced plans last Thursday to impeach Musharraf.

Speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information, the Pakistani official said the U.S. was keen to see an orderly transition of power, presenting Washington with the opportunity to build close ties with Musharraf's successor.

The Bush administration's interest in maintaining close relations with Pakistan is built around the desire to carry forward cooperation in the war against Islamic extremism.

Pakistan, under Musharraf's leadership, has deployed as many as 150,000 military and paramilitary soldiers along its border with Afghanistan in support of the U.S. and NATO led military operations in that country.

The president has worked closely with the Bush administration since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which prompted President Bush to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban government. The attacks also prompted Pakistan to turn its back on Afghanistan's deposed, hard-line Islamic rulers and become a U.S. ally.

Officials at Musharraf's presidential residence in Rawalpindi, Pakistan's primary military garrison city and a suburb of the capital Islamabad, have remained quiet over reports the president is considering a voluntary departure from office.

However, Western diplomats say the latest onslaught by ruling politicians seeking Musharraf's impeachment has presented the president with an insurmountable political challenge.

The ruling party in the new coalition says it has the support of more than two-thirds of Pakistan's parliament - enough to make the impeachment move successful if it were to come to a vote.

Storm clouds are rapidly gathering over Musharraf's presidency just more than a year after he fired Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, unleashing nationwide protests by lawyers, political activists and members of the civil society.

However, the greatest setback to his rule came in February this year when his handpicked politicians were defeated in parliamentary elections, leaving a coalition of opposition parties to form the new government.

The ruling coalition which has announced its intention to impeach Musharraf consists of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Farhan Bokhari has been covering Southeast Asia for several large European news organizations for 16 years. Based in Islamabad, he focuses his coverage on politics and security issues surrounding the war against terrorism.