WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON — Three senators who met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after opposition parties won a governing majority last week urged a "graceful exit" from power for the close Bush terror-fighting ally.
"Were I their political adviser, that's what I would advise," Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday. He did not favor an attempt by that new coalition to impeach Musharraf; the parties have enough seats to govern, but not enough to impeach the president.
"I firmly believe if they do not focus on old grudges — and there's plenty in Pakistan — and give him a graceful way to move," then it could happen, said Biden, D-Del.
Also endorsing a negotiated exit rather than a push from power was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
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."
Just on Friday, Hutchison and Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, met with Musharraf and expressed their appreciation for "the president's leadership and Pakistan's role in the fight against terrorism," according to a U.S. Embassy statement.
Biden, joined by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., 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 — `a transition figure here," Biden said.
The senators also met with Asif Ali Zadari of the Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslin 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 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 ABC. Hagel was on "Late Edition" on CNN.