ISLAMABAD Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday he had no immediate plan to resign or go into exile, in a bid to quash rising speculation he will quit office soon.
U.S. ally Musharraf, who came to power as a general following a coup in 1999, has cut an increasingly isolated figure since the parties supporting him were defeated in an election in February.
Musharraf has stubbornly held on to the presidency despite losing parliamentary backing and public support, and talk hit fresh heights in the past week that he was planning to step down and leave newly elected civilian leaders to run the country.
"I am not tendering resignation now," he told journalists in a briefing later broadcast by all Pakistani news channels.
But with the government proposing sweeping changes in the constitution to curb his powers, Musharraf indicated he would not like to be reduced to a ceremonial head of state.
"I will keep watching. I can't become a useless vegetable," he said. "Parliament is supreme. Whatever it will decide will be accepted by me ... but I will not like to try to be uselessly around."
Benazir Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, who leads the party heading the coalition, has called Musharraf a "relic of the past".
He says his Pakistan People's Party (PPP) does not recognize Musharraf as a constitutional president, and has drafted a constitutional package to reduce him to a figurehead role.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew and who now leads the second largest party in the National Assembly, wants his successor impeached or tried for treason.
Asked how would he react if government tried to impeach him, Musharraf said: "I will abide by whatever parliament decides. Let the parliament decide in a constitutional way."
Musharraf is believed to be seeking immunity for suspending the constitution and imposing emergency rule for six weeks last November, and the PPP leadership is trying to make his exit "dignified", according to a adviser to Zardari.
Despite Musharraf's public stance, political insiders say he recognizes that he will have to quit rather than be the cause of further upheavals, and it has become a matter of timing.
Musharraf gave no hint on Saturday of when that might be.
"UP TO PAKISTAN AND ME"
He said he had sound relations with U.S. President George W. Bush, but that would have little influence on events.
"My going or staying depends on Pakistan and me and nobody else," he said.
The United States and other Western allies are less worried about Musharraf no longer being in power than they are about the risk of a nuclear-armed Muslim nation plunging into turmoil.
There are fears the political debate over what to do about Musharraf is distracting the coalition at a time when the Pakistani economy is deteriorating rapidly and the threat from al Qaeda and the Taliban remains potent.
A lawyers' movement that sprang up last year to fight Musharraf's attempts to dictate to the judiciary will seek to hasten his departure with a mass protest next week.
Despite having become overwhelmingly unpopular, Musharraf said he would not be driven out by rumors or protests.
"I will not make judgemenjudgmentt under pressure ... I will judge whether I have any value for this country or not," he said.
"Secondly, I certainly, very emphatically want to say I cannot preside over the downfall of Pakistan," said Musharraf.
Critics say Musharraf has a "savior complex" and regards himself as indispensable to Pakistan.
(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; editing by Alex Richardson and Andrew Roche)