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Musharraf to keep Bhutto out of poll fray

On the seventh anniversary of the 1999 coup, he did not give a clue about the talks his Govt is supposed to be having with Benazir.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2006 14:48 IST

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf declared that Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister he ousted seven years ago, and another exiled former premier, Benazir Bhutto, would not be allowed to contest the national elections he has promised next year.

On the seventh anniversary of the coup he staged in 1999, Musharraf on Wednesday did not give a clue about the talks his government is supposed to be having with Bhutto.

His wanting to keep her out indicates that either she has not conceded ground or the alleged parleys are incomplete.

Neither confirming nor denying that these talks are reportedly taking place through emissaries, he has kept his political adversaries guessing.

Both, the government and Bhutto's side, have vehemently denied that talks are taking place at all. But this has not stopped the political circles and the media from speculating.

Going by past experience, analysts say, such pre-poll parleys and speculations are typical of Pakistan's political scene.

More particularly, past dictators Ayub Khan and Zia-ul Haq had also engaged in these to deal with detractors and consolidate their political bases.

Back from his tour of wooing the West and being wooed by its leaders for combating terrorism, Musharraf rooted for what he calls "enlightened moderation" and against religious extremism and terrorism.

If extremists win, Qaid-e-Azam's Pakistan will be no more. "Moderates must win," Musharraf was quoted as saying by The Nation newspaper Thursday at an iftar party (a socio-political gathering during the holy Ramadan) he hosted.

In a military coup on October 11, 1999, army commanders loyal to Musharraf helped him capture power. Nawaz Sharif, who was alleged to have conspired to kill Musharraf by not allowing a plane that brought him from Colombo to land till it was dangerously close to ending its fuel storage, was detained that day. He was eventually sent into exile.

During the politico-military roller-coaster of the last seven years, Musharraf faced three attempts on his life in 2003 and an equal number earlier this month when rockets were found in the VVIP area where he lives and along the nine-kilometre forested route he takes to go to work.

Musharraf told the iftar gathering attended by senior editors that the government had traced "the whole gang" involved in the Rawalpindi park blast and the recovery of rockets in Islamabad.

It was "a great success", The Nation quoted him as saying. "The police have arrested the culprits, who are extremists and out to disturb peace in the country," he observed.

He vowed the government would win the battle against extremism. "Moderates would be dominant and win against such militancy," The News International quoted him as saying.

He announced a "jirga" (an assembly of tribal elders) in troubled Balochistan, saying he was for a political resolution of the long-standing problem that has fomented separatism and insurgency in the province.

He announced that the government was working to revive the system of 'maliks' in Balochistan, a feudal system that has 'worked' in the province for centuries.

This is apparently a reversal of his stance in view of the backlash caused by the killing of Bugti tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation on Aug 25.

Musharraf had earlier said that separatism in Balochistan was caused by "two or three sardars", and would end centuries-old feudalism, taking the country's largest province on the 'modern' path.

His government is busy implementing a jobs-and-funds package for Balochistan's development, the latest being a five percent hike in quota of jobs that was announced earlier Wednesday.