Bhutto, Sharif join hands for democracy
The exiled prime ministers have pledged to work more closely together by signing a "charter of democracy".india Updated: May 15, 2006 13:41 IST
Former Pakistan prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, now in exile, pledged on Sunday to work more closely together by signing in London what they called a "charter of democracy".
It was a sign of the increasing cooperation between the once-bitter rivals ahead of general elections due next year.
Sharif has made clear that the opposition should take part in the polls only if they are held under a neutral caretaker government.
"This is a historic moment," Bhutto said at the signing ceremony. "We believe that the task ahead for Pakistan is a gigantic one. It is very important for us to work together."
President Pervez Musharraf has already dismissed the growing alliance between Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League as irrelevant. Both parties have been accused of corruption - allegations they deny.
Bhutto said that the charter covered topics such as methods to limit the role of the military in politics and a need to ensure a clear chain of command over Pakistan's nuclear arms.
"We believe that terrorism and militancy are a direct byproduct of military dictatorship. Successive military dictatorships have subverted the popular will of the people of Pakistan," she said.
Both leaders said that they wanted to go back to Pakistan but Musharraf, widely expected to stay in office after the 2007 elections, has vowed to block that.
Sharif also called on the United States to stop backing Musharraf, who is described by President George W Bush as a key ally in his war on terror.
"If America is preaching democracy in Iraq, if America is preaching democracy in Afghanistan, then it should also stop its policy of supporting the uniformed president of Pakistan," he said.
Sharif, who was sent to exile in Saudi Arabia after being ousted by Musharraf, is now in London.
Having lived in self-exile since 1999, Bhutto faces graft charges in Pakistan and abroad and faces arrest if she returns home.