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Musharraf, Bhutto may strike a deal: Reports

Media reports said that the president held a meeting with the ruling PML leadership to discuss possibility of a deal with Bhutto's PPP.

india Updated: Oct 28, 2006 17:36 IST
United News of India
United News of India

Despite repeated denials by Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)that they are engaged in secret negotiations to strike a deal before the 2007 election, the local media insists that the proposal is being mulled over.

Even on Friday, the president held a meeting with the top leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League to discuss possibility of a (power sharing) deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's PPP.

The English-language The Nation newspaper reported that the Presidency is, however, keeping the final decision close to its chest.

The participants at the four-hour meeting debated for and against a deal with the former prime minister.

"It was a political brain-storming session," the newspaper quoted a participant at the meeting as saying.

The timing of the session is significant as it was held just days before a meeting of the army Corps Commanders.

The meeting was held to view future political options and finalise the strategy for the next general elections that would be held in time, the sources said, claiming the majority of the participants opposed a deal with Ms Bhutto.

For obvious reasons, PML chief Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Chief Minister of Punjab Pervez Elahi, Chief Minister of Sindh Arbab Rahim, Chief Minister Balochistan Jam Yousuf and former President Farooq Leghari, rejected the option of a deal with Ms Bhutto.

However, it was Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri who forcefully argued in favour of a deal with Bhutto saying bringing her on board would help check the rise of 'Mullahism' in country politics.

"To counter Mullah we need PPP," was Kasuri's view, an insider said.

The opponents of a deal with Bhutto, however, rubbished Kasuri's view as 'old', saying all the political cards are still with Gen Musharraf.

"There are cases against Bhutto; Nawaz Sharif cannot return until 2010; and the courts still have to decided about the fate of Madrassa degrees," the insider, who opposed the deal, said smilingly.

"Musharraf and the PML stand great chances of success without any outside help," the sources claimed.

Kasuri's minority view notwithstanding, inviting him to this important meeting was meaningful as the other participants were the party chiefs, Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, NWFP Governor Alin Jan Aurakzai, and senior intelligence officials.

Senior PML leaders Hamid Nasir Chattha, and Manzoor Wattoo supported a deal with Bhutto but it was difficult for former President Farooq Leghari to paper over his long-standing contempt for her.

"She can do nothing politically," was his line of argument in the meeting.

Tariq Aziz, the Secretary General of the National Security Council and President's pointsman who also cobbled together the PML did not speak during the discussion but knowledgeable circles claim he supports a deal with her.

Also significant are the so-called confidence building measures that the government has taken in the recent past to mend fences with the PPP.

Although former NA Speaker Yousuf Raza Gilani has secured bail from the High Court, political pundits claim it happened due to a newly found soft spot for the PPP among the government circles.

The withdrawal of notices by Interpol against Bhutto and Zardari is being quoted as the second major CBM by the government followed by the government's plea in the Swiss court to defer the hearing of Surrey Palace case against the former ruling couple.

However, the opponents of the deal, the Chief Ministers of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, told the participants that PML is the most popular party among the masses as compared to any other political force.

"It was a consultative meeting to work out the future political strategy. There was unanimity of view that the ruling PML is strong enough to contest elections alone and there is no need to make alliance with any of the major political parties," a participant, who opposed the deal, said.

President Musharraf, during the meeting, reiterated his commitment to hold free and fair elections and said they would be held on completion of the tenure of the present assemblies in 2007.

The sources quoted Gen Musharraf as saying, "All the political parties will be free to contest the elections except two individuals: Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif."

The meeting discussed the strategy to further consolidate the ruling PML position by expediting the development work in the country.

First Published: Oct 28, 2006 17:36 IST