Pakistan's ruling coalition finalized impeachment charges against President Pervez Musharraf on Sunday and a government minister said they could be filed as early as this week if he does not resign first.
Musharraf is holding out against intense pressure to quit from political foes who swept February elections and relegated the stalwart U.S. ally to the sidelines.
With Musharraf's utility fading, the West appears less concerned with his ultimate fate than with how the crisis is affecting the new civilian government's halting efforts to fight terrorism and growing economic woes.
A committee of Pakistan's ruling coalition on Sunday finalized a list of impeachment charges against Musharraf after five days of talks, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.
If coalition leaders give a green light, "we will be presenting (the list) as part of a resolution and charge sheet in the joint houses and, God willing, that should happen this week," Rehman said.
The coalition is confident it will easily secure the required two-thirds majority in a joint session of the upper and lower houses of parliament to oust Musharraf.
Pressure to resign
They argue Musharraf should quit now to spare the nation from a divisive political showdown.
The coalition officials released no details of the charges, but a senior coalition leader, Sen. Raza Rabbani, said the charges included "a plethora of actions" taken by Musharraf in "gross violation" of the constitution.
"He should tender his resignation, pack up his bags, and go," Rabbani told reporters after the committee meeting in Islamabad. "Whatever little moral authority was left has now been completely eroded."
The officials were vague about the timing — leaving space for more back-channel talks aimed at smoothing a possible Musharraf exit and avoiding an unprecedented impeachment process.
The president has acknowledged that his imposition of temporary emergency rule last year was unconstitutional. He used the time to fire dozens of senior judges and ward off legal challenges to him continuing as president.
However, he insists that he defeated a conspiracy to derail Pakistan's return to democracy and acted exclusively in the national interest.
Presidential spokesman Rashid Qureshi reiterated Sunday that Musharraf would soldier on.
"This thing must be clear to everyone that President Musharraf is not going to resign, period," Qureshi told The Associated Press.
Some believe he'll quit
Still, some current and former supporters suggest that Musharraf might yield in return for guarantees he will not be prosecuted or forced into exile. Officials say Western and Arab emissaries have been in talks with the main parties.
Qureshi said he was not aware of any secret talks.
Some analysts point to the lack of overt support from either the army or Washington — Musharraf's main props during his eight years in power — in predicting that he will ultimately quit.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that Washington's focus was on working with the democratic government to counter terrorism and help its economy.
While Musharraf was a "good ally" who "kept his word" on ending military rule, whether he should resign "is a matter for Pakistan to determine," Rice told Fox News television.
When asked if Musharraf would be granted asylum in the U.S., Rice said, "This is an issue that is not on the table."
Going after the unpopular and marginalized Musharraf has allowed Pakistan's coalition to deflect attention from problems such as inflation and Islamic extremism raging across the northwest.
The coalition includes the party of Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup and who is calling for the ex-general to be tried for treason — a charge that can be punished with the death penalty.
Party would shun 'politics of revenge'
The Pakistan People's Party — perhaps mindful that the army and Washington would frown on a political lynching — has taken a milder tone.
Rehman said the party would shun the "politics of revenge" that has scarred Pakistan's 61-year history.
"We want stability in the country, we want political stability," Rehman said.
Musharraf dominated Pakistan for eight years after the 1999 coup and insists he made the right choice in siding with the United States against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
However, many Pakistanis blame rising violence in their country on the closeness of that alliance and are deeply suspicious of U.S. motives in the region.
Musharraf's popularity sank to new lows in 2007 when he ousted the judges and imposed emergency rule in November — moves coalition officials say were illegal and could be used to justify impeachment.