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Things no more rosy for Musharraf

The Charter of Democracy, signed three weeks ago, has become a rallying point against the President.

india Updated: Jun 06, 2006 13:14 IST

Three weeks after it was signed in London by exiled former Pakistan prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the "Charter of Democracy" is becoming a rallying point against President Pervez Musharraf.

The positive initial reaction in Pakistan to the charter signed May 14 has also tempered the actions of the exiled leaders.

They are unlikely to unleash a mass mobilisation against Musharraf, fearing that he might call off his promise to hold parliamentary elections next year.

Nor are they likely to rush back home to be detained and dragged to courts for facing trial in numerous pending cases of violations of law and corruption charges.

On her part, Bhutto has gone out of the way to assure party cadres that she and Sharif have buried their differences and were looking forward to working together. They would not dump the charter if they come to power.

This message was necessary for the squabbling cadres of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

With an election timetable still in the realm of speculation, the picture is hazy.

While seeking to rally the opposition from their exile, the two leaders have been careful about not associating with the ultra-conservative Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) that emerged powerful from the last round of elections and rules the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

In sum, the two former rivals, now united in their effort to unseat Musharraf, want a peaceful and controlled transfer of power, rather than unleashing political anarchy whose outcome will be uncertain.

The assumption, it would seem, is that under US pressure, having made "a commitment" to facilitate democracy to visiting US President George W Bush in March, Musharraf would play ball.

While dismissing the charter as "a political gimmick", Musharraf has gone about putting his house - the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam that he blesses - in order.

He has directed party men to rally behind its president, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain.

But politically things are not rosy for him.

The Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), a conglomerate of parties, has endorsed the charter's broad points and has asked to be associated in further deliberations.

Even the MMA also seems ready to jump on the bandwagon. Its chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman has said the charter cannot be called so till the MMA is associated with it, according to a report in the Daily Times.

Buoyed by the response at home, Bhutto and Sharif, who met in Dubai Friday, described the charter as "indispensable to Pakistan's political future".

Reporting the meeting, Geo Television said the two leaders would work out to enlarge the spectrum at a meeting with ARD leaders proposed for July 2 in London.

Sharif told the channel: "I am sure that ARD leaders will endorse the document and sign it. We are also seeking other parties' support."

Bhutto and Sharif met at the residence of Ishaq Dar, a PML-N leader. The first meeting had been at the house of a former intelligence official close to Bhutto.

Critics had said Sharif had been averse to the meeting hosted by the official who had been involved in political witch-hunting when Bhutto was in power.

While Maulana Fazlur Rahman has complained about the MMA not being taken into confidence on the carter, Bhutto has said that agitation along with the MMA on its one-point agenda against the present government would not be a sensible route towards "a real democracy" in Pakistan.

Bhutto told ARY Television from her Dubai exile that she did not favour protests against Musharraf that would prompt the latter to stop the election process.

The Daily Times quoted her as saying: "What Musharraf will do if we start agitation before the elections is that either he will stop the election process or leave the scene, paving the way for another general to rule for another five years with lots of promises of good governance."

She said that agitation could be opted for only if Musharraf closed every door for impartial and transparent elections.

Musharraf has for the last six years painted the two former premiers as those who failed to govern and who used political power to fill their personal coffers.

Asked about her past 'mistakes', Bhutto told ARY channel: "It is the duty of historians to ascertain who made mistakes. My differences with Mian Nawaz Sharif are part of the past.

Now we are together for a democratic and a prosperous Pakistan. We are not looking back, we are looking ahead."