Bowing to pressure from Pakistan`s newly-elected civilian government, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, once a top U.S. ally, said Monday that he will resign from office immediately, effectively ending nearly nine years of military rule in the country under his leadership.
Musharraf announced his decision to step down in a nationally televised public address 10 days after leaders of Pakistan`s two ruling coalition parties called for his impeachment. Demand for his resignation became increasingly vocal last week after Pakistan`s four provincial assemblies voted overwhelmingly for his ouster.
In the nearly hour-long address, Musharraf struck a defiant and emotional tone, saying that his political opponents had opted for the politics of confrontation over reconciliation. But he said that he is stepping down in the interest of maintaining stability in the country.
"I am leaving with the satisfaction that whatever I could do for this country I did it with integrity" Musharraf said. "I am a human too. I could have made mistakes but I believe that the people will forgive me."
Musharraf`s resignation Monday signaled the end of a long and important alliance with the U.S. Musharraf was one of the first Muslim leaders to declare allegiance to the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. With his support the U.S. was allowed to use several military bases in Pakistan while Pakistani army troops were deployed to pursue Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents sheltering in the country`s rugged tribal areas near the border of Afghanistan. It was a tremendously risky stance for the leader of one of the world`s most populous and politically divided Muslim nations -- one that provoked ire from al-Qaeda leaders in particular. But the alliance earned Pakistan important political dividends and more than $10 billion in U.S. aid, transforming the impoverished country from a political pariah to a regional economic powerhouse.
Signs that the strength of Musharraf`s alliance with the U.S. was on the wane emerged this spring, however. U.S. officials expressed increasing frustration with Pakistan`s faltering efforts to blunt the threat from Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents inside Pakistan. As progress stalled on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in its seventh year, U.S. officials became more vocal about their suspicions that intelligence agencies under Musharraf`s regime had been complicit in supporting a resurgent Taliban. Last month, top CIA officials confronted the Pakistani government with evidence that Pakistani intelligence agents had assisted in a suicide bombing attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
Last week, the White House and State Department appeared to distance themselves from the Pakistani president, saying his impeachment was an internal matter for the coalition government to decide. On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. has no plans to offer Musharraf asylum.
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, declined to comment on Musharraf`s resignation and referred all questions to the White House.
Leaders of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N hailed Musharraf`s resignation as a major victory for their coalition government. The coalition parties, which defeated Musharraf`s Pakistan Muslim League-Q faction in national parliamentary elections earlier this year, have vowed to elect a new president as quickly as possible.
"This is a victory for democratic forces," said Farzana Raja, a top member of the Pakistan People`s Party. "It should have happened much earlier. The dictatorship should have been done away with sometime ago.
In Islamabad, the capital, news of Musharraf`s departure from office was greeted with jubilation. Dozens of people gathered outside the home of Pakistan People`s Party leader Asif Ali Zardari, cheering loudly and shouting the name of his wife, slain leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Under Pakistani law, the chairman of the Senate will become the de facto head of state until party elections for a new president can be held. The current Senate chairman, Mohammedmian Soomro, 57, a member of Musharraf`s Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, was governor of the southern province of Sindh from 2000 to 2002 before he was later elected to the Senate in February 2003. A former banker, Soomro was appointed interim prime minister by Musharraf last year, days after Musharraf declared a state of emergency in the country. Soomro could not be reached immediately for comment Monday.