ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Pervez Musharraf held out yesterday against rising calls for his resignation, but indicated he would quit if a hostile parliament slashed his powers and left him feeling like a "useless vegetable."
Musharraf has clung to power and retained the support of President Bush despite his plummeting popularity and the defeat of his supporters in February elections. Recent media reports have suggested he was ready to go into exile.
The former army strongman, a stalwart ally in Washington's war on terrorism, insisted yesterday that he would not quit under pressure. His archfoes are calling for him to be impeached and tried for treason - which carries the death penalty.
Still, Musharraf said he would prefer to retire if the new government succeeded in its efforts to reduce his presidential role to a ceremonial one.
"Parliament is supreme. Whatever the parliament decides, I will accept it," Musharraf told reporters from Pakistani news channels, which broadcast his remarks. "If I see that I don't have any role to play, then it is better to play golf."
"I cannot become a useless vegetable," the Pakistani leader said.
Musharraf also suggested he would step aside if political turmoil began to engulf the country. "I cannot preside over the downfall of Pakistan," he said.
The two main coalition parties - both led by men jailed under Musharraf - have been calling loudly for his resignation. However, their two-month-old ruling coalition appears divided over how to deal with him.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government fell to Musharraf's 1999 coup, has called for Musharraf to face treason charges. He is also pressing hard for the restoration of judges Musharraf ousted last year during a burst of emergency rule to halt legal challenges to his reelection as president.
Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of the main ruling party, recently described Musharraf as a "relic of the past" who should quit.
Zardari has echoed Musharraf's calls for reconciliation but wants to restore the judges as part of a cumbersome raft of constitutional amendments that would also remove Musharraf's power to dissolve the country's parliament and appoint military chiefs.