Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf vowed today to resist pressure for him to resign but suggested he might quit if Parliament reduced him to a toothless figurehead.
Musharraf, a stalwart US ally, has been under pressure since his allies lost parliamentary elections in February. Media reports this week suggested he was ready to resign and go into exile.
The former army strongman said today he would not quit under pressure. He appealed for political unity to counter economic problems and terrorism.
But he indicated that he would go if the new government succeeded in its plan to reduce his powers to the point where he felt like a “useless vegetable”.
“Parliament is supreme. Whatever the Parliament decides I will accept it,” Musharraf told reporters from Pakistani news channels, which broadcast his remarks. “If I see that I don’t have any role to play, then it is better to play golf.”
Western officials worry that Pakistan’s government is preoccupied with Musharraf’s future rather than mounting economic woes and Islamic extremists operating along its border with Afghanistan.
The two-month-old ruling coalition, led by two men who were jailed under the ex-army chief, is divided over how to deal with Musharraf.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted in Musharraf’s 1999 coup, leads the second-largest party in the coalition.
Sharif is calling loudly for Musharraf’s impeachment and is pressing hard for the restoration of judges the president ousted last year to halt legal challenges to his continued rule.
Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of the main ruling party, recently described Musharraf as a “relic of the past” who should resign.
But Zardari wants to restore the judges as part of a cumbersome raft of constitutional amendments that would also remove Musharraf’s power to dissolve Parliament and appoint military chiefs.
Some analysts doubt whether the coalition can agree on the package or muster the two-thirds majority required to bring it through Parliament any time soon.
Musharraf, who has kept a low public profile in recent weeks, said he was speaking out because the rumours about his future were harming the country.
The government should focus on addressing economic woes, including trade and budget deficits as well as double-digit inflation fuelled by rising world oil and food prices, he said.
“To take the country out of this crisis, I think reconciliation is the key. Confrontation would take the country further down,” he said. “I have no doubt the government and prime minister want to confront all these issues. My support will be with them.”