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Bhutto, Musharraf inch closer to deal

world Updated: Aug 30, 2007 02:14 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Pakistan’s political scene has started to heat up with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly giving the government two days to finalise an electoral understanding and another former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announcing his intention to return to the country within a fortnight.

As things stand, political observers say that the Musharraf government wants to clinch the deal with Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party before Sharif sets foot in Pakistan. “There are fears that Mian Nawaz Sharif’s arrival in Pakistan may upset the current political scenario under which the government wants to hammer (out) an agreement with major political parties,” one newspaper commented.

As part of the deal, President Pervez Musharraf, for his part, is seeking support for elections that would give him another five-year term. But his options have narrowed after a series of Supreme Court decisions.

Bhutto wants a clear statement the general will resign as army chief before year-end, some say before a presidential vote due in the autumn. She also wants a pledge to remove legal obstacles currently preventing her from becoming prime minister.

Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters on Wednesday that the deal was “80 per cent done”. He said the crucial issue of Musharraf’s double role as president and army chief had been resolved. Bhutto made a similar comment to a British newspaper, although neither she nor Rashid elaborated.

It is believed that Nawaz Sharif will attack Bhutto for come to an agreement with a military general. Some say that while Musharraf may accept Bhutto’s demands, he may have a hard time selling this to his military commanders.

At the moment President Musharraf has enough votes in parliament to win another five-year term. However, there have been grumblings from the ruling party over the decision of Musharraf to talk to Bhutto. So far, one minister has resigned in protest.

In his talk with the media, Sheikh Rashid claimed that almost all issues have been settled with the Peoples Party except the matter of scrapping the law that prohibits the twice-elected premier to assume the office for the third time. He said the next three days were “very crucial”.