ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The Associated Press
Pakistan's ruling coalition took another step yesterday toward impeaching President Pervez Musharraf, finalizing the charges to be launched against the former army strongman if he refuses to resign.
Musharraf is holding out against enormous pressure to quit from foes who swept February elections and relegated the stalwart U.S. ally to the political sidelines.
Yesterday, a committee of coalition officials agreed on a list of impeachment charges against the president, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.
Rehman provided no details of the charges, which will now go to coalition leaders for a final decision on launching impeachment proceedings in Parliament.
She also was vague on the timetable - leaving room for more back-channel talks aimed at smoothing a possible Musharraf exit and limiting the turmoil in a country key to Western efforts to combat Islamic extremism.
"We've come to a mutual conclusion on what we shall present to the leaders of the coalition government," Rehman told reporters after the committee meeting in Islamabad.
"Once they have cleared it, we will be presenting it as part of a resolution and charge sheet in the joint houses and, God willing, that should happen this week," she said.
The coalition has threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings in Parliament as early as today if Musharraf doesn't resign. It claims it will easily secure the required two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the upper and lower houses of Parliament to oust him.
Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi insisted Sunday that Musharraf "is not going to resign, period." Qureshi said he was unaware of any back-channel talks and accused hostile media of spreading rumors.
However, some current and former supporters have suggested Musharraf might yield in return for guarantees he will not be prosecuted or forced into exile.
Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum, a rare survivor from the previous, pro-Musharraf government, said he advised the president during a meeting Saturday that an impeachment move cannot be blocked in the courts.
He also said Musharraf, a former commando who insists he has always acted in the national interest, wanted to soldier on.
"President Musharraf says he will not bow to these pressures, will not quit and will defend himself," Qayyum told The Associated Press.
Going after the unpopular and marginalized Musharraf has allowed the government to regain the initiative after months of gloom about mounting economic problems and Islamic militancy.
The coalition includes the party of Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup and who is calling for the ex-general to be tried for treason - a charge that can be punished with the death penalty.
However, its senior partner, the Pakistan People's Party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has taken a milder tone, insisting it will shun the "politics of revenge" that scars the bloody and rancorous 61-year history of the South Asia nation.
"We want stability in the country, we want political stability. We want to make progress in the light of the mandate that has been given to our government," Rehman said.
Musharraf dominated Pakistan for eight years after the 1999 coup and insists he made the right choice in siding with the United States against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
However, many Pakistanis blame rising violence in their country on the closeness of that alliance and are deeply suspicious of U.S. motives in the region.
Musharraf's popularity sank to new lows in 2007 when he ousted dozens of senior judges and imposed emergency rule to safeguard a newly won second term as president - moves coalition officials say were illegal and could be used to justify impeachment.