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Bhutto's party considers future ties with Musharraf, return to Pakistan

Bhutto's party considers future ties with Musharraf, return to Pakistan

Members of exiled former premier Benazir Bhutto's party were set to continue discussions Saturday on whether to end talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf over a pact that could see them share power and end military rule in Pakistan.
Musharraf and Bhutto have been wrangling for months over the terms of an agreement that would shore up his fraught re-election bid and allow her to return to contest parliamentary elections.
However, she has yet to win a public commitment from Musharraf on two critical points _ that he step down as army chief and give up the power to dismiss the government and parliament.
"We would like to know firmly whether the government agrees to our proposals for the transition to democracy or not," Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, told The Associated Press on Friday.
"If we conclude that the talks are leading nowhere, we have a number of options," including breaking them off, Babar, in Islamabad, said of the two-day meeting in London that started Friday.
Wajid Hassan, a party spokesman in London, said the Pakistan People's Party was waiting for written answers to questions raised with Musharraf's officials.
He also said the party was finalizing a date in October for Bhutto's return to Pakistan. Bhutto had previously said only that she would return by December.
Musharraf, who governed Pakistan virtually unchallenged for years after he seized power in 1999, now finds himself in a three-way fight for power with Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the man he deposed in a bloodless coup.
The general once vowed not to let either return to Pakistan, accusing them of corruption and mismanaging Pakistan in the 1980s, when each served two truncated terms.
But he has lost support since a botched attempt to fire the country's top judge in March spawned street protests and widespread calls for an end to military rule.
Musharraf recently began calling for moderates to unite against extremism amid growing pressure from the United States to crack down on the spreading influence of militant groups linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Sharif vowed Thursday to return to Pakistan on Sept. 10 to wage a "decisive battle against dictatorship."
Bhutto had named Aug. 31 as the date by which her party needed clear concessions from Musharraf if negotiations were to continue in an effort put pressure on the government to accede to her demands.
Musharraf aides on Thursday denied her claim that he had decided to quit as army chief before presidential elections due between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.
Bhutto's spokesman suggested the party could only allow government envoys a little more time to respond or see the tentative deal collapse.
"If they don't come out in a day or two, then I think all the things that have been discussed so far goes haywire," Babar said.
Babar wouldn't say what course the party could take if the talks with Musharraf broke down, but said he was "not optimistic."
On Thursday, Sharif described Bhutto's dealings with Musharraf as a "gross violation" of an opposition pact to fight for the restoration of democracy.
Despite their differences, Babar insisted Bhutto could still join Sharif in outright opposition to Musharraf.
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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-23 10:24 GMT+08:00