LAHORE - Despite the brave front being put up by President Pervez Musharraf in face of ever-increasing pressure on him to resign even before the impeachment motion is tabled in the Parliament it is becoming increasingly likely he will not be able to withstand the momentum of the political onslaught against him and in the coming days he will be forced to quit. The Provincial Assemblies resolution, being tabled in the Punjab Assembly today, also asks for his resignation forthwith. With his loyalists in the PML-Q and its allies including supremo Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain distancing from him and advising him to fight or resign, the numbers game seems to be heavily skewed against Musharraf. Both PPP and PML-N are working overnight to woo the opposition and are already claiming to have mustered more than the required two-thirds majority of the joint strength of the Parliament to oust him. Sceptics predict that Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif will fall out on the issue of who will be the next president. However, it seems to be premature as both party leaders and their junior partners are on the same page about the antecedents of the next President. Both, contrary to popular speculation, do not fit the bill for the next president. In their recent marathon meetings in Islamabad, both Nawaz and Zardari expressed the desire not to be candidate for the presidential slot. Broad agreement was reached on a candidate who will be of a national stature, non-controversial and preferably from a smaller province. They even shortlisted a few names but both are tightlipped about disclosing them at this stage. The biggest dampener for the President has been the role of the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani, or rather the lack of a role in determining his fate. The Army Chief has made it clear on more than one occasion that the Armed Forces are neutral in the matter and if the political stakeholders want to move against Musharraf in a legal political or constitutional manner it is their business. The fact that neither the ISI, IB or the MI no longer report to him nor are headed by his handpicked loyalists makes it increasingly difficult for the President to arm-twist politicians to fall in line like in the past. In this scenario, it is impossible to use Article 58-2(b) to sack the government and dissolve the Parliament even if he desires to do so. There is a widespread perception amongst the legal fraternity that by deciding to impeach the President first the coalition partners have put the issue of restoration of the judiciary on the backburner. Some sceptics go to the extent of alleging that Mr Zardari is not sincere in seeing the impeachment through and it is just a ruse to thwart the judges' issue. Little do they realise that if the impeachment move comes to vote and fails the ruling coalition's goose will be cooked to the extent that it will be difficult for it to contain the emergent crisis resulting in their ultimate ouster. So far as the question of restoration of judiciary is concerned if eight judges of the Sindh High Court had been notified to take oath as planned, it would have dealt a deathblow to the lawyers' movement as eight judges of the Lahore High Court and some judges of the Peshawar High Court were also reportedly ready to take oath. It was in fact timely intervention of Nawaz Sharif that thwarted the notification. When Mr Zardari came to know the gravity of the situation as PML-N had virtually walked out of the talks, his timely intervention saved the day. Mr Zardari, to be fair, had informed Nawaz Sharif about the Sindh judges' issue over the telephone when he invited him for talks in Islamabad. This was mistakenly construed as his assent to their taking oath by his legal eagle Mr Farooq Naek. Strategically speaking also it was decided that it would be better to go for impeachment of the President first and in the meanwhile not to touch the higher judiciary. Interestingly, Mr Zardari has a comfort level with the incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan that he does not enjoy with Justice Iftikhar. Since coalition politics is the art of the possible, probably the PML-N had no option but to go along after getting their way on the oath issue and a firm commitment that judges will be restored according to the Murree Declaration subsequently. It is obvious to all and sundry that President Musharraf is long past his shelf life. In a sense he is on a hat-trick of missing opportunities to exit honourably. The first one came when his peers restored Chief Justice Iftikhar last year. He was advised by some of his senior colleagues including Mr Tariq Aziz to resign but he decided to stick it out. The opportunity again arose after the King's Party was badly mauled in the February 18 general elections. Although Musharraf was on record that he will resign if his party loses the elections, he again decided to stick to his guns. Now his position is becoming increasingly untenable with every passing of the day. Perhaps negotiating an honourable exit, which incidentally he did not accord to his opponents is his best option.