ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a staunch U.S. ally, resigned Monday under intense pressure to quit before the formal start of impeachment proceedings that would plunge the U.S. ally into further political turmoil.
"After consultations with legal advisers and close political supporters and on their advice, I'm taking the decision of resigning," Musharraf said a televised address. "My resignation will go to the speaker of the National Assembly today."
Whether that will help or exacerbate Pakistan's political crisis will not be known for weeks.
Militant attacks by allies of the Taliban and al Qaida, based in Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan, have increased since Pakistan's coalition government began seeking peace negotiations. Musharraf's agreement to step down rather than face all-but certain impeachment removes one distraction from anti-terror fight. Washington believes that extremists use Pakistan's border area as a base to launch attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan and has been critical of Islamabad's strategy of peace talks.
Details of the deal that led to Musharraf's resignation were not immediately available. Back-channel negotiations between the Pakistani coalition government, which came to power after elections in February, and Musharraf had centered on Musarraf's desire to remain in Pakistan and be granted immunity from prosecution. The government was reluctant to grant those requests.
But both sides wanted to avoid a contentious impeachment battle that could have unsettled the military and the U.S.-backed war on terror.
There is speculation that key aspects of Musharraf's cooperation with the United States would have been aired in any impeachment hearings, including details of the "disappearance" of since 9/11 of hundreds of Pakistanis, some into U.S. custody, and the sanctioning of American missile strikes against suspected militant camps in Pakistan's tribal areas. The Pakistan army raid on Islamabad's radical Red Mosque last year, which resulted in around 100 deaths, might also have featured in any Musharraf trial.
"Nobody wants the Pandora's Box opened up," said Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times, the Pakistani newspaper. "The issue of impeachment is really a non-starter."
It had been thought that, given Musharraf's close partnership with Washington, he might live in the United States if he is forced into exile. However, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while noting that "President Musharraf has been a good ally," said Sunday that Washington was not considering granting him asylum.
"That's not an issue on the table, and I just want to keep our focus on what we must do with the democratic government of Pakistan," Rice told Fox News.
That leaves a Middle Eastern ally of Pakistan, such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, as the most likely refuge for Musharraf, should he leav Pakistan.