Musharraf- Bhutto Deal in Offing

To the astonishment of their own parties, President Pervez Musharraf and former premier Benazir Bhutto are putting the final touches on a far-reaching power-sharing deal, sources and insiders said.

Musharraf- Bhutto Deal in Offing

To the astonishment of their own parties, President Pervez Musharraf and former premier Benazir Bhutto are putting the final touches on a far-reaching power-sharing deal, sources and insiders said.

"Talks are almost successful," a source close to General Musharraf said referring to his behind-the-scene meeting with Bhutto in Abu Dhabi on Friday, July 27.

He elaborated that the power-sharing deal revolves around the re-election of Musharraf by the current assemblies with the help of Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), holding general elections under a neutral caretaker government and withdrawing all corruption cases against Bhutto.

"The two sides have almost agreed on the points, however, there is still difference of opinion on the implementation," said the source.

"There are only two minor hitches."

Bhutto wants Musharraf to shed his uniform before the presidential elections whereas he wants to do that after getting re-elected.

The former premier wants all corruption cases against her immediately and unconditionally withdrawn while Musharraf is not ready yet.

Musharraf is proposing that Bhutto returns to Pakistan and participates in the elections and in the meantime the government gradually withdraws the cases against her.

"She is more worried about a money laundering case pending against her in a Swiss court," the source said, adding that Musharraf has agreed to withdraw that case.

Bhutto went into self exile in 1998 after then prime minister Nawaz Sharif filed corruption cases against her in local and international courts.

Sharif was ousted in the October 1999 bloodless coup that brought Musharraf, then chief-of-staff, to power.

National Security Council's Secretary Tariq Aziz, a close aide to Musharraf, Lt General Ashfaq Kiyani, the head of the powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Rehman Malik, a London-based close aide to Bhutto, and Riaz Bashir, a common friend of Musharraf and Bhutto, have played a key role in brokering the deal.

Gestures

As a goodwill gesture, the government restored on Monday, July 30, half of the bank accounts of Bhutto, sources in the State Bank of Pakistan confirmed.

Bhutto's bank accounts were frozen by the government on charges of corruption and money laundering.

Officials in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which had recommended the bank freeze declined to comment on the new government move.

Under the power-sharing formula, the constitution would be amended to pave the way for Bhutto to serve a third term as prime minister.

Bhutto has served as premier twice from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996.

Her governments were dismissed by Presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Ahmed Leghari respectively on charges of corruption and extra-judicial killings.

Federal Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affair Sher Afghan Niazi confirmed that the parliament would amend the constitution for Bhutto.

"The matters, which have been settled down between the president and Benazir Bhutto, were need of the hour," he said in press statements.

"It is in the better interest of the country. Both Musharraf and Benazir will be the beneficiaries of that."

A close friend of Bhutto confirmed that the "matters" have almost been settled down.

"Yes, there are some bottlenecks, but I am sure they will be resolved too," she said on the condition of anonymity.

Musharraf and Bhutto have for years traded accusations of ranging from corruption to violation of the constitution.

Stunned

The secret talks between Musharraf and Bhutto are causing a turmoil within the ranks of their respective Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and PPP parties.

Senior PPP leaders appeared stunned because Bhutto did not take them into confidence about her move.

"I can't comment on that because I am not aware of any talks," Raza Rabbani, the party's Deputy Secretary General, told IOL in a harsh tone.

"If she accepts General Musharraf as a uniformed president, I will resign from the party membership," Rabbani, considered one of the closest aides of Bhutto, was quoted as saying by local newspapers two days ago.

He was not the only PPP leader not taken into confidence about the Musharraf secret talks.

"Don't ask me about that. We are totally demoralized by this move," a senior PPP leader told IOL wishing not to be named.

"We had been proud of the fact that our party had never bowed to the military rulers, and had always struggled for democracy. But now, we can't claim this," he fumed.

"Where do we stand now as we have sought the props of a military dictator after agreeing to re-elect him as president.

"A predominant majority of our workers and leaders are in a state of shock that our chief has joined hands with a general," he said.

The ruling PML(Q) was in no less predicament.

"I don't know how to face my people in coming elections in my constituency," a shell-shocked federal minister told IOL on the condition of anonymity.

"My entire politics has been anti-PPP. Now, how will I convince my voters."

The ruling party bigwigs far the party would suffer a wave of defections over the Musharraf-Bhutto deal.

Two PML(Q) sitting members of national assembly and five provincial assembly members have already joined the PPP.

"Undoubtedly, we have the large number of influential candidates, but they can't win with state patronage. After the deal has been concluded with Benazir, General Musharraf is in no position to go the whole hog and make our party win the elections," said another party leader.

Disappointed

Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician and chief of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Imran Khan said the deal is leaving the whole country in shock.

"The meeting has disappointed the nation," he told IOL.

"She should remember the struggle of her father who accepted death but didn't compromise with a military dictator," Khan said, referring to Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged on July 5, 1979, by then military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq.

He believes the deal would not affect the opposition's movement.

"Our movement will continue whether there is a deal or not. We will not bow to General Musharraf. He is a dictator, and he has to leave."

Liaquat Baloch, the deputy secretary general of the six-party religious alliance Muttehida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), warns the deal would strengthen the dictatorship in the country.

"She is hoodwinking her own party leaders and workers. She has left them in a whirlpool by striking a deal with a military dictator," he told IOL.

Former premier Sharif said the deal socked the entire nation.

"Any deal with a dictator will be considered treachery," he told the party workers by telephone.

Bhutto and Sharif had signed a Charter of Democracy a few months back, assuring each other that they would not hold any talks with the military regime.

Following the reports of secret contacts between Bhutto and Musharraf, Sharif unilaterally parted his ways and formed a new alliance on July 11, at a grand opposition meeting in London.

The new All Pakistan Democratic Movement comprises all major religious, political and nationalist parties, except the PPP.

"At this stage, when the dictatorship is about to be buried, any party that strikes the deal with the dictator, will dig out its own grave."

IOL

Last Mod: 31 Temmuz 2007, 19:45
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