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Pakistan parties differ on Musharraf's successor

Pakistan parties differ on Musharraf's successor

Pakistan's largest political party wants the husband of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto to succeed ousted Pervez Musharraf as president _ but its main partner in the fragile ruling coalition government has ideas of its own.
With elections by lawmakers now set for Sept. 6, the pressure is on for the two sides to come to some sort of agreement.
Asif Ali Zardari, leader of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, is emerging as the favorite. He criticized Musharraf for his long, authoritarian rule but would likely continue the former general's support for the U.S. war against extremist groups.
However, Zardari's ascent would dismay many Pakistanis, who view him as a symbol of the sleaze that tainted the country's last experiment with civilian rule in the 1990s. He won the nickname "Mr. 10 Percent" for alleged corruption during his wife's turns as prime minister.
But with the governing coalition that drove Musharraf to resign this week now teetering on the verge of collapse, Zardari's nomination is not certain. He is engaged in intense political horse-trading with the leader of the other key party, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was a bitter rival of Bhutto.
Sharif's party has been threatening to bolt from the coalition in a struggle over power.
It thinks the next president should hail from one of Pakistan's two smallest provinces _ Baluchistan or North West Frontier. That would exclude Zardari, who comes from the southern province of Sindh.
But after meeting with Zardari's aides Saturday, Sharif said he would consider supporting Bhutto's widower, but only if the People's Party followed through with promises to sharply reduce the powers of the new president.
Sharif's comments come as many citizens, as well as Pakistan's Western backers, are urging the ruling coalition to resolve political issues and turn their attention to runaway inflation, slowing economic growth and rising violence by Islamic militants entrenched along the border with Afghanistan.
That need has been rammed home in recent days by a string of deadly suicide bombings claimed by Taliban militants.
In the country's volatile northwest on Saturday, a car bombing at a police station killed at least six officers and a roadside explosion killed one civilian.
Two days earlier, in one of the country's deadliest-ever terrorist attacks, twin suicide bombings left 67 people dead at a weapons manufacturing complex just 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.
After seeking to tame militant groups in peace negotiations, the government has been entangled in recent weeks in increased fighting with hard-line Islamic movements along the border. Militant violence began intensifying after Musharraf ordered soldiers to seize a radical mosque in Islamabad during a bloody battle in July 2007.
According to Associated Press reporting, at least 110 militant attacks have been launched on government, military or police targets since the mosque siege and about 20 attacks have targeted civilians.
At least 60 of those attacks were suicide bombings.
The 52-year-old Zardari did not immediately accept his party's nomination, but has done nothing to tamp down the recent chorus from supporters calling for him to take a post that retains many of the powers accumulated during Musharraf's nine-year rule.
"If the major political party believes that he is the most talented person, then he is the most eligible person for this post," said Nabeel Gabol of the People's Party, which gave the leader unanimous support at a meeting Friday.
Party spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said Zardari promised to announce whether he would accept the nomination within 24 hours.
"Now it depends on him whether he himself becomes (president) or nominates someone else," Gabol said.
A presidency for Zardari _ or a figure under his control _ would cap an extraordinary transformation of Pakistani politics that has removed both of Washington's most likely allies from the scene.
Zardari only returned to Pakistan from years in exile after his wife was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack last December.
Bhutto, a liberal who courted Western governments and pledged a tough line against Islamic militants, had come back two months before under a U.S.-encouraged deal with Musharraf expected to see them share power after February parliamentary elections.
Musharraf, who gave up his dual post of army chief in November to rule as a civilian president, had by then issued a controversial order quashing corruption charges against Bhutto and her husband.
But Musharraf became a political untouchable even for Bhutto after he imposed emergency rule so he could remove Supreme Court judges poised to block his plan to remain as a civilian ruler.
The turmoil resulted in a stinging defeat for Musharraf's allies in the February elections and thrust Zardari into an alliance with Sharif united mainly by opposition to the unpopular ex-general.
After Musharraf resigned Monday to head off impeachment, the two biggest parties in the government wrangled over how to restore the fired judges, whether Musharraf should face prosecution and who should succeed him.
Sharif, who earlier demanded that the justices be reinstated by the middle of next week, on Saturday brought the deadline forward to Monday.
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Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad and Stephen Graham contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-11-30 10:40 GMT+08:00