Pakistan violence flares after Musharraf resigns

Law Minister Farooq Naek: Government did not strike immunity deal with outgoing president.

musharraf leaves 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
musharraf leaves 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Leaders of Pakistan's ruling coalition met Tuesday to discuss who should succeed Pervez Musharraf as president, while a bombing outside a hospital and clashes with militants killed dozens and underscored the challenges facing the country. Musharraf resigned Monday in the face of impeachment threats from the government, which is packed with his foes. The longtime US ally was believed to be in his tightly guarded residence on the outskirts of the capital, Islamabad. His future after nearly nine divisive years in power also was on the agenda for the meeting. How the coalition deals with succession - and whether it leads to a power struggle - is a looming question at a critical time. The militant threat is spreading in Pakistan's northwest, but the country also faces soaring inflation, chronic power shortages and a host of other economic problems. Law Minister Farooq Naek said Tuesday that the government had not struck an immunity deal with Musharraf, though supporters and foes suggested he had sought guarantees that he would not face criminal prosecution or be forced into exile. "There is no deal with the president, and he had himself resigned," Naek told reporters. Musharraf did not specify his plans during his emotional resignation speech on Monday, saying only that his future was in the hands of the people. But local media reports have suggested he might leave the country for security reasons _ he is despised by Islamist militants and is widely unpopular among ordinary Pakistanis. "He should not be allowed to leave," said Sadiqul Farooq, spokesman for the coalition's second-largest party, which has accused the former president of treason. "He should be tried for his crimes." Pakistan's president is elected by lawmakers, a process that is supposed to be completed within 30 days. Analysts say earlier infighting over Musharraf's future and the mechanics of bringing back judges he sacked late last year had distracted the government from tackling important issues. "There is a huge challenge ahead," said Shafqat Mahmood, a political analyst. "Now this whole Musharraf excuse is behind us. Now people are going to be focusing on their performance." Some ordinary Pakistanis wondered Tuesday what the future would hold. "Yesterday they fired gun shots in the air to celebrate Musharraf's resignation. That seems crazy to me," said Zubair Khan, a 25-year-old motorcycle mechanic, adding that in the end all politicians are the same. "People do not realize that they (rulers) have no spirit to serve the people," he said. "At the end of the day, they stuff their foreign bank accounts with all the looted money they earn while in power." Musharraf seized control of the government in a 1999 coup and dominated Pakistan for years, supporting the US in the war on terror. Pakistanis blamed rising violence in the country on the Musharraf's alliance with Washington. For many, the final straw came last year when Musharraf imposed emergency rule and sacked dozens of judges who could challenge his rule - one of the key topics facing ruling coalition leaders on Tuesday. The coalition parties have differed over the mechanism of restoring the judges. Musharraf's rivals won February parliamentary elections, largely sidelining him while clamoring for him to quit. They announced an impeachment campaign earlier this month, leading Musharraf to ultimately calculate that he could not remain in power. One of the biggest challenges ahead is how to deal with an al-Qaida and Taliban-backed insurgency in Pakistan's volatile northwest. A military operation against insurgents in the Bajur tribal region has reportedly killed hundreds and displaced more than 200,000. On Tuesday, police said security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery pounded targeted insurgents in the area, killing 11 suspected militants and five civilians over a 24-hour period. Security forces stepped up the shelling after militants attacked a paramilitary post at Mamad Gatt near the Afghan border, said Fazal Rabbi, a police commander in Bajur. He said he did not know if any of the paramilitary troops were killed. Separately, government official Jamil Khan said 13 militants and five paramilitary troops died Tuesday in a clash at a fort in the Nawagai area of Bajur. Another 23 people were killed and 15 wounded in violence that officials said appeared to be sectarian - a bombing outside the emergency gate of a hospital crowded with Shiite Muslim mourners.