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Musharraf dismisses talk of 'graceful exit'

President Pervez Musharraf's spokesman on Monday dismissed a suggestion from three U.S. senators that the embattled leader make a "graceful exit" from power his opponents' victory in Pakistan's elections.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Pervez Musharraf's spokesman on Monday dismissed a suggestion from three U.S. senators that the embattled leader make a "graceful exit" from power following his opponents' victory in Pakistan's elections.

Musharraf was elected to a new five-year presidential term last year by Pakistani lawmakers, "not by any senator from the United States," his spokesman Rashid Qureshi told Dawn News television.

"So I don't think he needs to respond to anything that is said by these people," he said.

The three U.S. senators met Musharraf shortly after last week's parliamentary vote in which his political allies were routed. Some Pakistani political leaders have also called for him to resign.

Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that he would advise Musharraf to seek a dignified way to leave office.

"I firmly believe if (political parties) do not focus on old grudges — and there's plenty in Pakistan — and give him a graceful way to move," then it could happen, Biden, a Democrat, said on ABC television.

Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Chuck Hagel also endorsed a negotiated retreat rather than a push from power for Musharraf.

She advised the incoming government not to be "heavy-handed or ham-handed. I think that Musharraf knows what the election results were. I think that he and they agree that a secular vote was won, that the extremists were repudiated everywhere, even in their so-called strongholds. So there is a way that they could come together," Hutchison said.

"If there could be a graceful exit or a way that the parliament and the majority could work its will," that would be a proper transition. "If we can just help them see through this new election, the new majority, and avoid a constitutional crisis, which is what, I think, all of them, on their own, are deciding is in the best interests of the people of Pakistan."

‘Our best partner’
Just on Friday, Hutchison and Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican, met with Musharraf and expressed their appreciation for "the president's leadership and Pakistan's role in the fight against terrorism," according to Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell praised Musharraf as "our best partner" in fighting terrorists. "We have been able to kill or capture more of the al-Qaida leadership in partnership with Pakistan than anyone else."

Acknowledging the political landscape has changed, McConnell said the question is, "What happens when a coalition is formed in the new government and what is the position of the president? So we'll be very carefully monitoring that."

After an election in which the victors were secular political parties and Islamic hard-liners fared badly, McConnell said he was optimistic "we'll be able to figure out how to work with the Pakistani government going forward and be more effective than we have been in the past."

Biden, joined by Sens. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican, saw Musharraf on the morning after the election.

"He walked in and said, ‘Look, the results are in. I lost. I am prepared to be a transition’ — he didn't use these words — ‘transition figure here,’" Biden said.

Meetings with opposition
The senators also met with Asif Ali Zadari of the Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N. Together, those parties won at least 154 of the 268 contested seats in the National Assembly. Musharraf's ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, won only 40 seats. Pakistan's Election Commission has yet to declare winners of six seats.

Opposition leaders fear that Musharraf, who as president has the authority to dissolve parliament, might do that and call new elections if Pakistani lawmakers take actions he opposes.

Hagel said the message that the U.S. lawmakers conveyed to Pakistan's political leaders was: "Do not squander this moment. Come together in a way that is relevant for your country, with some purpose." Hagel said he thinks Musharraf "accepts completely the free, fair, transparent election. Was it perfect? No. But it was far, far better than any election they've ever had."

It is Hagel's guess that the Pakistani president "wants a graceful way out of this. And I think that's what you'll see. Then it will be up to the coalition government to take on some of these tough challenges" — a reference to pursuing suspected terrorist groups in the border areas with Afghanistan.

President George W. Bush, during his trip to Africa last week, said it is now time "for the newly elected folks to show up and form their government. The question now is, `Will they be friends of the United States?' I hope so." He also called Musharraf after his party lost in voting last Monday.

Biden and Hutchison spoke on "This Week" on the ABC television network. Hagel was on "Late Edition" on CNN.