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Musharraf, Bhutto agree general's military future, close on possible power-sharing deal

Musharraf, Bhutto agree general's military future, close on possible power-sharing deal

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is closing on a deal with exiled former premier Benazir Bhutto that could see them share power and step up Pakistan's fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban, a senior official said Wednesday.
Musharraf and Bhutto, a two-time prime minister, have been in talks for months about a pact that would protect the general's troubled re-election bid from looming legal challenges and public disenchantment with military rule.
In return, Musharraf is widely expected to give up his role as army chief, and Bhutto will return and contest parliamentary elections, eight years after she fled in the face of corruption charges.
"Both sides have agreed on the issue of uniform," Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a close ally of the president, said of secret talks reportedly taking place in London.
Bhutto was quoted in a British newspaper making a similar comment, though neither she nor Ahmed said explicitly that Musharraf had agreed to her demand that he step down as army chief.
Bhutto and other opposition leaders argue that the constitution obliges Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, to give up his post as military chief before he asks lawmakers for a fresh mandate in September or October.
However, Musharraf has insisted that the constitution lets him remain in uniform until the end of 2007 and has left open what will happen after that.
Bhutto was quoted in Wednesday's Daily Telegraph as saying that the "uniform issue is resolved."
"The uniform issue is key and there has been a lot of movement on it in the recent round of talks," Bhutto told the London-based daily.
Both Bhutto and Ahmed said the two sides were close to an agreement but that there were still outstanding issues.
Musharraf has seen his authority erode since March, when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the Supreme Court's chief justice. The move triggered protests that snowballed into a broad campaign against his continued rule.
The United States, which counts Musharraf as a key antiterror ally but is growing impatient with his performance against al-Qaida and the Taliban, also appears to be pressing for faster democratic reform.
The court reinstated the chief justice in July, raising expectations that it might uphold legal challenges to Musharraf's re-election.
Last week, the court ruled that Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister toppled in 1999 who is also living in exile, can return to Pakistan.
Sharif has denounced Musharraf as a dictator who must be removed from the political scene.
In an interview published in Wednesday's Financial Times newspaper, Sharif said he would return before the start of the holy month of Ramadan in mid-September.
Government threats to arrest him on charges dating back to the coup would strengthen his support, he said.
"Today the people, civil society, the judiciary, the political forces and the media are on one side, and the dictator and his shrinking support are on the other side," Sharif was quoted as saying.
Musharraf on Wednesday urged Sharif to abide by an agreement that he signed in 2000 to spend a decade in exile in Saudi Arabia in exchange for his release from a jail term.
Sharif should "show character and not violate the agreement," Musharraf said, according to state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency.
The prospect of Sharif's tumultuous return has added to the urgency of an accommodation between Musharraf and Bhutto, who share a relatively liberal outlook and stress the need to avoid political chaos that could destabilize the nuclear-armed nation.
Musharraf previously vowed to prevent either former leader from re-entering Pakistan.
He blames them for the corruption and economic problems that nearly bankrupted the country in the 1990s, when Bhutto and Sharif each had two short-lived turns as prime minister.
But the general has begun talking of the need to forget the past and forge an alliance of moderates. Bhutto argues that a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to take stronger measures against extremists and claims that elements in the security forces have been opposing such steps.
Ahmed, the railways minister, forecast that an understanding between Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Musharraf would be finalized this week.
An accord is expected to include constitutional amendments to allow Musharraf to continue as president and lift bars to Bhutto again becoming prime minister.
Bhutto, wary that Musharraf could revive the corruption cases that she fled into exile in 1999, also wants immunity from prosecution for herself and her old foe, Sharif.


Updated : 2021-07-26 06:25 GMT+08:00