Bhutto and Musharraf Edge towards Power-Sharing Deal after Secret Talks ; WORLD
Buncombe, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Confronting growing political problems, Pakistan's military leader, General Pervez Musharraf, has held secret talks with his rival Benazir Bhutto in the Middle East to discuss a power-sharing arrangement that could extend his presidency.
Officials said yesterday that Mr Musharraf and Mrs Bhutto, the country's former prime minster, met in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Mrs Bhutto herself acknowledged the talks had taken place, but sought to publicly throw down a gauntlet to Mr Musharraf, saying he must stand down as head of the country's military if a power- sharing arrangement was to go ahead. Confirming the talks, Pakistan's minister for railways, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, said that Mr Musharraf and Mrs Bhutto "held a successful meeting", but he would not elaborate on the subject of the discussion.
Mrs Bhutto said negotiations were continuing between the government and her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), but said there were several sticking points.
"We do not accept President Musharraf in uniform. Our stand is that, and I stick to my stand," she told KTN television.
In an interview with Sky News, Mrs Bhutto also said she would be willing to stand for the Pakistani premiership again. "If the people of Pakistan vote for me then certainly I would consider it. But this is more than a struggle for me, it's a struggle for the heart and soul of Pakistan."
Mr Musharraf is under intense political pressure ahead of elections scheduled to take place later this year, and a deal with the PPP has been one option he has been exploring to extend his presidency, first seized by means of a coup in 1999. "We have already said that our negotiations are going on and we have achieved forward movement on some matters," added Mrs Bhutto.
Quite how such an arrangement would work, and the implications for a supposed return to democracy if two such powerful politicians were making deals with no mandate, are unclear. Mr Musharraf has been pushing to have the country's national and regional assemblies vote on whether to extend his presidency while they are still dominated by politicians supportive of him. …