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After Musharraf's exit, joy and challenges

Pakistan's unpopular president resigned Monday, leaving a divided government to pick a successor and face other mounting problems.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 19, 2008

Out: Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf left the presidential house in Islamabad Monday, after announcing his resignation during an hour-long address televised nationwide.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

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Lahore, Pakistan

The United States lost a stalwart ally in its war on terror Monday when Pervez Musharraf resigned as president to avoid a looming impeachment battle.

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After seizing power nine years ago, the once-popular leader initially supported Afghanistan's Taliban, only to turn his back on them to support the US after Sept. 11, 2001. He survived several assassination attempts and watched his support plunge as he stalled on democratic reforms and suspended independent-minded judges.

Pakistan's divided government must now pick a successor while also tackling a growing threat from militants and a sputtering economy.

But the mood Monday was one of exhilaration, with many cheering the president's long-sought exit. Across the country, Pakistanis rejoiced on the streets.

"This is a historically great day for Pakistan and a triumph for democracy," says Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director of the International Crisis Group. "It is the first time a dictator has been forced to step down by a democratically elected government."

Musharraf – who, since February, has been sidelined in a democratically elected government – addressed the nation in a long and often emotional televised address. He held his announcement until the end.

"This is not time for individual bravado. I lose or win in impeachment proceedings; the Pakistani nation will be the loser," said the somber-looking former Army chief. "After taking advice from my supporters and friends, I have decided to resign in the best interests of the nation."

Pakistanis have been waiting for this news since Aug. 8, when the leaders of its government – former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N Party and Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) – announced they were seeking to impeach Musharraf for imposing a state of emergency last November and other alleged crimes.

The suspense has built in recent days amid myriad rumors of an imminent resignation and his determination to fight impeachment. Some even speculated that Musharraf would use his presidential powers to dissolve parliament.

It was unclear Monday whether the government would seek to press further charges against him or, indeed, whether it would provide him with the security that the former Army chief will require to remain in Pakistan. Musharraf has been the target of at least four assassination attempts during his time in power.

Many had regarded the US as an obvious destination once Musharraf had fallen from power. But on Sunday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that granting asylum to Musharraf was not "on the table."

"My own guess is that was diplomatic language, meaning his options are much more limited," says Ms. Ahmed.

The Bush administration has distanced itself from Pakistan amid Musharraf's political decline and concerns that he wasn't doing enough to prevent the northwest region bordering Afghanistan from becoming a stronghold for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.