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Bhutto claims power-sharing deal with rival

Benazir Bhutto said Nawaz Sharif agreed to give her first turn at running the country should they win free elections.

world Updated: Jun 18, 2007 17:31 IST

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said on Monday she had won agreement from her main rival and fellow exile Nawaz Sharif to give her first turn at running the country should they win free elections.

Sharif and Bhutto formed the multi-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy after President Pervez Musharraf took over Pakistan in a bloodless coup in 1999. Both have repeatedly called for free elections that would end their exile.

"Both of us are committed to reforming the military establishment. I hope ... that the military would be not able to play one of us off against the other," Bhutto told the Financial Times.

"Mr Nawaz Sharif and I agree. Mr Nawaz says, 'You should be the prime minister for the first five-year term' and after that five-year term he wants to run," she said.

Sharif, also a former prime minister, was not immediately available for comment.

Though Musharraf has accused both former leaders of corruption and vowed to block their return, Pakistan has been rife with talk that he and Bhutto were overcoming their mutual distrust to forge a common front against religious conservative forces before a general election expected later this year.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Sharif said that he and Bhutto had ruled out any deal with Musharraf, who is facing his most serious challenge since seizing power.

The president's suspension of Pakistan's top judge Iftikhar Chaudhry on March 9 has whipped up a serious challenge to his rule, uniting lawyers defending the independence of the judiciary and the opposition hoping to gain from the new mood of public unrest in the coming elections.

Musharraf, also army chief, has been a key ally for the United States in its "war on terror" but is coming under increasing pressure from Washington to honour a pledge to step out of uniform and allow Bhutto and Sharif back.

Bhutto told the Financial Times she had been discussing a possible deal with Musharraf that would enable him to continue as president, provided he agreed to quit as army chief.

"We've had discussions, but they have not moved forward," she said. "We've left all options open."

First Published: Jun 18, 2007 16:59 IST