Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation today ending a nine-year rule that opponents said was hampering the country’s return to democracy.
Mr Musharraf said he wanted to spare Pakistan from a dangerous power struggle with opponents vowing to impeach him. He said he was satisfied that all he had done “was for the people and for the country.”
“I hope the nation and the people will forgive my mistakes,” Mr Musharraf said in an hour-long televised address devoted largely to defending his record.
Mr Musharraf dominated Pakistan after seizing power in a 1999 military coup, making the country a key strategic ally of the West by supporting the war on terror. But his popularity at home sank over the years.
His influence has faded steadily over the past 12 months and he quit the pivotal post of army chief in November and his resignation was widely forecast.
Pakistan’s stock market and currency both rose strongly on hopes that the country was bound for political stability.
In his hour-long address, Mr Musharraf said he would turn in his resignation to the National Assembly speaker. It was not clear whether it would take effect the same day.
There is speculation that both Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the leaders of the two main parties, are interested in taking over as president, however, neither has said so publicly.
It was also unclear whether Mr Musharraf would stay in Pakistan or go into exile.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said leaders of the ruling coalition would discuss whether to prosecute Mr Musharraf in court on the impeachment charges.
Briefly, his political foes put those issues on the back-burner and got on with celebrating.
“It is a victory of democratic forces,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman said. “Today, the shadow of dictatorship that has prevailed for long over this country, that chapter has been closed.”
Many Pakistanis blame the rising militant violence in their country on Mr Musharraf’s use of the army against militants nested in the north-west. His reputation suffered fatal blows in 2007 when he removed dozens of judges and imposed emergency rule. His rivals won February parliamentary elections and have since demanded he quit.
Mr Musharraf, who has been largely sidelined since his rivals came to power, yielded after the coalition finalised impeachment charges against him.
They were expected to include violating the constitution and gross misconduct.
In his address, a defiant Mr Musharraf listed the many problems facing Pakistan, including its sinking economy and a chronic power shortage. He said his opponents were wrong to blame him for the mounting difficulties and suggested they were going after him to mask their own failings.
“I pray the government stops this downward slide and takes the country out of this crisis,” he said.
Allies and rivals of the president said talks had suggested that Mr Musharraf might quit in return for legal immunity from future prosecution.
Mr Sharif’s party insists he should be tried for treason, which carries a maximum punishment of death.
The ruling parties also came under immediate pressure from protesting lawyers to meet a promise to restore the ousted judges – a matter fraught with political calculations because of Mr Sharif’s vociferous championing of their cause.