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Pakistan's new ruling party woos ex-Musharraf allies

Pakistan's new ruling party woos ex-Musharraf allies

Pakistan's ruling party said Thursday that it has buried its rivalry with a group of former supporters of President Pervez Musharraf, further isolating the U.S.-backed president.
However, it was unclear if the Mutahida Quami Movement would join the coalition government that took office this week, or how far it will back plans to cut the president's powers.
Asif Ali Zardari, the widower and political successor of slain ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whose party leads the new government, met late Wednesday with leaders of the MQM at their headquarters in Karachi.
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari's Pakistan People's Party, said the two sides "agreed to bury the bitter past in order to start a new era of friendship."
Asked whether the MQM could join the coalition government, Babar said the two parties had formed an eight-member committee to "explore how to further enhance cooperation."
The MQM was a key part of the coalition that supported Musharraf's long military rule. It draws support mainly from the descendants of Muslims who fled colonial-era India _ such as Musharraf himself _ and controls Karachi, Pakistan's teeming business hub and its main seaport.
It has a long and bitter rivalry with the People's Party, whose stronghold is the surrounding rural province of Sindh. Bhutto and others implicated the MQM in violence that killed about 40 people during an anti-Musharraf rally in Karachi last May.
But the MQM has distanced itself from the president and responded to overtures from Zardari since opposition parties swept February parliamentary elections in a vote that exposed public dissatisfaction with the president's increasingly authoritarian rule.
"Asif Ali Zardari has lit the lamp of love and unity and we have reciprocated his gesture," MQM leader Altaf Hussain said Wednesday.
Hussain, who has been accused of involvement in murder and kidnapping cases in the past, lives in self-imposed exile in London. His voice was relayed through loudspeakers to Zardari and hundreds of MQM supporters, who showered their guest in pink rose petals.
Zardari praised Hussain and said his visit was a "big leap forward" that would help "salvage our beloved country."
The two parties _ both secular groups who share Musharraf's strong public opposition to Islamic extremism _ are actively exploring cooperation in Sindh, where the People's Party already holds a slender majority in the provincial assembly.
But including the MQM in the federal government appears tricky.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Zardari's main coalition partner, has already raised doubts about that prospect and is demanding an inquiry into the May 12 carnage in Karachi.
"Our party leadership has already said it has some reservations about working with the MQM at the central level, and I have nothing to add," said Sadiq ul-Farooq, a senior member of Sharif's party.
Sharif, whom Musharraf deposed and exiled in a military coup in 1999, is pressing hardest for the ex-army chief's resignation.
Javed Hashmi, a firebrand lieutenant of Sharif, warned Musharraf on Thursday that he could face a court trial and even a death sentence for abusing the constitution.
"There is still time for him to save his life," Hashmi told a gathering of lawyers in the city of Multan. The politicians would grant him "safe passage" if he quits, Hashmi said.
Baber Ghauri, a senator for the MQM, said Zardari's visit to his party's headquarters in Karachi was a helpful gesture whose "impact would also be felt at the federal level."
He wouldn't say if his party will support the government's plans to strip the president of his power to dissolve parliament and restore Supreme Court judges purged by Musharraf in November.
Musharraf declared emergency rule and suspended the constitution in order to oust the judges, who were about to rule on the legality of his disputed re-election as president the month before.
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Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-16 17:39 GMT+08:00