Ahead of a crucial meeting between the two victorious opposition leaders, President Pervez Musharraf's aides have reportedly urged Pakistan People's Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari not to join hands with Nawaz Sharif's PML-N to form a coalition and even discussed possible prime ministerial candidates from PPP.
Musharraf's aides met Zardari on Tuesday for discussions on the formation of the next government, their first contact since the February 18 general election, Dawn News channel reported on Wednesday.
The PPP has emerged as the single largest party in Pakistan's general election by bagging 87 of the 268 National Assembly seats for which direct polls were held, followed by the PML-N with 66 seats. It is widely expected that they may form a coalition and Zardari and Sharif are scheduled to meet in Islamabad on Thursday for talks.
Musharraf's close aides, including National Security Council Secretary Tariq Aziz, met Zardari here yesterday and urged him not to holds talks with the PML-N on forming a government at the centre, official sources told Dawn News.
Zardari was non-committal in this regard and sources close to the PPP co-chairman told Dawn News that he did not want to forge an alliance with the PML-Q, the party which backs Musharraf and was routed in the polls.
Musharraf's aides and Zardari also discussed the names of the PPP's prime ministerial candidates.
The government team favoured PPP vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the president of the Punjab unit of the PPP, and senior party leader Yusuf Raza Gilani, the sources said.
This was the first contact between Musharraf's aides and Zardari since the February 18 general election. Zardari has met Aziz at least once in the run-up to the polls.
PPP leaders were not immediately available for comments on the meeting between Zardari and Musharraf's aides.
Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, Sharif said Musharraf should quit as the election result was a verdict against the President.
Sharif, who was deposed by the military ruler in 1999, has also made it clear that he will not work with Musharraf.
On the other hand, the PML-N's unexpectedly strong performance in the polls, especially in the politically crucial Punjab province, has made the PPP wary about forging an alliance with Sharif's party.
Some PPP leaders had told PTI before the polls that Zardari and Sharif would meet in Islamabad soon after the election results started coming in on Tuesday .
But once it became clear that the PML-N had performed well at the hustings, Sharif stayed back in Lahore and said he would come to the federal capital for a meeting with Zardari only on Thursday.
Meanwhile, PPP vice-chairman Fahim today said the next government would be formed "in a democratic manner".
The issue of forming a coalition with the PML-N will be discussed by PPP's central executive committee, he told reporters.
Asked about the PPP's differences with PML-N on the issue of reinstating the judges who were dismissed by Musharraf during last year's emergency, Fahim avoided a direct reply.
"Every party has a position on basic issues and we can move forward on them through talks," he said.
Sharif on Tuesday vowed to work for reinstating the deposed judges but Zardari indicated this issue would have to be addressed by the next parliament.