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‘Musharraf must shed his uniform’

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief Benazir Bhutto has categorically said that President Gen Pervez Musharraf must quit his military post if he is to continue as the country’s ruler, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Jul 31, 2007 03:03 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Kamal Siddiqi
Hindustan Times

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief Benazir Bhutto has categorically said that President Gen Pervez Musharraf must quit his military post if he is to continue as the country’s ruler.

Bhutto said in interviews on Sunday and Monday that she was interested in returning to the country and becoming premier for a third time if the opportunity presented itself. The former Prime Minister said talks with Gen Musharraf about her possible return to Pakistan in December were on.

Presidential circles have confirmed the meeting between Musharraf and Bhutto in Abu Dhabi even as Punjab Governor Khalid Maqbool said that details of the meeting would be revealed soon. He told the press in Lahore that negotiations between the President and political parties were a positive sign for the country.

Federal Railway Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, however, said on Monday said that existing assemblies would re-elect the president in uniform. “The government doesn’t need votes for the presidential election. It only wants that no major party quit the parliament during the presidential election,” he commented.

Addressing a news conference at railway headquarters in Lahore, the railway minister said August would be the month of key political decisions in the country. According to Rashid, the President has made up his mind on the uniform issue and will announce the decision about it at a proper time.

Replying to a question, the Railway Minister said if any meeting was held between the President and Bhutto in Abu Dhabi then “the final round has been played.” It was not the first meeting between the two, he added.

But Bhutto insists that the army must stop governing the country. “The military must respect decisions of the government and be held accountable before the parliament,” she noted.

In a series of interviews over the past couple of days, Bhutto would neither confirm nor deny she held talks with Gen Musharraf in a meeting that officials said took place on Friday in Abu Dhabi. President Musharraf, who returned home overnight from a two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, also stayed silent on the issue.

“I have very grave reservations about a uniformed president, and I believe it blurs the distinction between the civilian and military rule,” Bhutto told Britain’s Sky television on Sunday.

Gen Musharraf is expected to seek re-election when his term expires in October, and he wants the current crop of politicians in federal and provincial assemblies — who supported him five years ago and have not faced election since — to vote again.

A pact could require Gen Musharraf to lead changes to the Constitution to remove a ban on anyone serving as prime minister more than twice, and make sure corruption charges that have dogged Bhutto for years go away. Both moves would allow Bhutto, who served as prime minister once in the 1980s, and again in the 1990s, to become premier again.

In exchange, Bhutto’s party might agree to support a presidential vote before the parliamentary elections with Gen Musharraf still in uniform, if he gave assurances he would resign from the military soon after the legislative elections.

The News reported that a broad-based understanding between President Musharraf and Bhutto was reached in Abu Dhabi. The understanding includes her return to the country and a president-in-uniform beyond November 16, 2007, the date after which the President cannot enjoy waiver given to him under the Legal Framework Order (LFO).

First Published: Jul 31, 2007 02:59 IST