Pervez Musharraf, the former military general who became Pakistan's president and accepted more than $10 billion in aid from the United States to fight the war on terror, resigned in a speech broadcast to the nation today, saying the country would benefit from his stepping aside before impeachment proceedings against him could begin.
"Can the country face more confrontation? Can the country's economy face more destruction?" Musharraf asked during an hour-long address carried live on all Pakistani channels and on Western cable channels. "The honor and dignity of the country will be affected, and in my view, the honor of the office of president will also be affected."
"Therefore, after taking everything into consideration," he continued, "I am resigning from the presidency."
Musharraf took power in 1999 after a bloodless coup, and between that time and early 2007, he received nearly 70 percent approval ratings. But in the last year, he fired the Supreme Court chief justice and imposed emergency rule as the economy dropped and inflation spiked. Today, inflation is running higher than 24 percent, and more than six in 10 Pakistanis wanted to see him go, according to a recent Pakistani Gallup poll.
"We are facing calamity. Everything is expensive. Behind the government is his hand," 20-year-old Adnan Abbasi told ABC News while shopping in an Islamabad market. "When he goes, there will be a new government, and prices will go down."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement today that "President Musharraf has been a friend to the United States and one of the world's most committed partners in the war against terrorism and extremism. Musharraf made the critical choice to join the fight against al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups that threaten the peace and security of Pakistan, its neighbors and partners throughout the world. For this, he has our deep gratitude."
But today, with Musharraf gone, the United States fears that his successor will not carry as much sway with the nuclear-armed military and will be less interested in fighting the militants than in making peace with them.
His resignation came 10 days after the ruling coalition announced it planned to impeach him, and it frees the coalition to choose a new president. The chairman of the Pakistani senate will temporarily become the new president until the national and provincial assemblies can choose a successor. According to the constitution, the next president must be chosen in the next 30 days.
Musharraf's opponents had indicated that they would be ready to impeach him in the next few days for violating the constitution.
He protested his innocence to the end.
"No charge can be proved against me because I never did anything for myself. It was all for Pakistan," he said. "Unfortunately, some elements acting for vested interests leveled false allegations against me and deceived people."
Musharraf leaves behind him a precarious power vacuum, with both sides of the coalition government wanting to put their man, or woman, in power.
Who will succeed Musharraf is still very much in the balance, and the scene is set for horsetrading between the two main parties -- the Pakistan's People's Party, the former party of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League party headed by Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister, whom Musharraf deposed in the 1999 coup.