ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally, on Monday received a direct violent threat from al Qaida while his political opponents convened parliament to begin impeachment proceedings against him.
In a video, al Qaida's second in command, Ayman al Zawahri, called for an uprising not only against Musharraf but also the Pakistani state, which he said was "virtually ruled from the American Embassy." He spoke in English for the first time in a recording.
The video came as Pakistan's elected parliament met for a special session for impeachment proceedings. The government is still preparing its "charge sheet" against the president but militant Islamic anger at him was obvious in al Qaida's video.
"Pervez has insulted and compromised Pakistan's sovereignty by allowing the CIA and FBI to operate freely in Pakistan and arrest, interrogate, torture, deport and detain any person, whether Pakistani or not, for as long as they like, thus turning the Pakistani army and security agencies into hunting dogs in the contemporary crusade," said Zawahri, an Egyptian who's considered the terrorist group's chief ideologue.
Zawahri denounced Musharraf in particular for his crackdown last year on Islamabad's radical Red Mosque _ an army raid that resulted in some 100 deaths — and his treatment of renegade Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who's been under house arrest for four years. Although al Qaida has little support in Pakistan, Zawahri picked two grievances that have widespread appeal in the country.
The extremist vitriol against Musharraf, a former army chief who celebrated his 65th birthday Monday, demonstrated how dangerous it would be for him to remain in Pakistan after leaving office. Currently, he has massive security, and has survived several assassination attempts by Islamic militants. There's speculation that he'll be offered refuge in the U.S., where his son Bilal lives, or in Turkey, where he spent his childhood.
Under Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, Pakistan allied with Washington against al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. However, the Pakistanis have been reluctant warriors at best against Islamic extremists, who've found a haven along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
The authenticity of the recording, delivered to a Pakistani news channel over the weekend, couldn't be verified, though experts said it sounded like Zawahri's voice. Zawahri said he was speaking in English to appeal directly to the people of Pakistan, regretting that he didn't know Urdu, the national language. English is widely understood in Pakistan, unlike Zawahri's native Arabic.
Al Qaida's message was much broader than an attack on Musharraf, with the group calling for jihad against the Pakistani state, including the current government, and especially the military. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, was singled out as a "hostile enemy of Islam." The call confirmed that the extremist challenge to Pakistan wouldn't end with the president's ouster.
"Let there be no doubt in your minds that the dominant political forces at work in Pakistan today are competing to appease and please the modern-day Crusaders in the White House, and are working to destabilize this nuclear-capable nation under the aegis of America," Zawahri said.
So far, Musharraf shows no signs of resigning, as many had predicted after the coalition government, which came to power after elections in February, announced last week that it would move to impeach him.
Parliament needs a two-thirds majority to convict him, and the numbers look close if members vote along party lines. Some coalition members suggested Monday that their campaign wouldn't stop at impeachment; treason charges, which are being threatened, carry the death penalty.
"Impeachment is not enough," said Nisar Ali Khan, a leading member of the coalition, standing outside parliament. "After impeachment, there should be a public trial."
The impeachment process could take until Sept. 3, ministers indicated, which is the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The charges are expected to be based on Musharraf's alleged subversion of the constitution.
First, all four of the country's provincial parliaments will pass resolutions against Musharraf in turn, in the hope of pressuring him to step down voluntarily.
The assembly of the Punjab, the country's most powerful province, kicked off Monday with a resolution that declared Musharraf unfit for office, which passed by an overwhelming 321-25 amid chants of "Go, Musharraf go!"
Some 35 members of the main pro-Musharraf party joined the other camp, in an ominous sign for the president.
Pakistan continues to battle militants — some with links to al Qaida — on its northwest fringe. At least 100 militants and nine paramilitary troops have died in clashes that began last week in the Bajaur tribal area, which borders Afghanistan.
Bajaur is considered a likely hiding place for Zawahri and Osama bin Laden.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)