Bhutto claims power-sharing deal with rival
Financial Times
By Jo Johnson

Benazir Bhutto claims to have secured a “verbal” agreement from her main rival for the Pakistani premiership to a power-sharing arrangement that would give her the first turn at running the country.

In an interview with the FT, Ms Bhutto said that she and Nawaz Sharif, the exiled leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), had struck the bargain so they could present a common front in their battle to reassert civilian control over the army.

Any such arrangement would go far beyond the published terms of the Charter of Democracy – a 36-point common programme to “save the motherland from the clutches of military dictatorship” – that Ms Bhutto, the exiled head of the Pakistan People’s party, and Mr Sharif signed in May 2006.

“Both of us are committed to reforming the military establishment. So I hope that we will have a consensus within the parliament on the reforms that we are going to bring, and that the military would not be able to play one of us off against the other,” said Ms Bhutto.

“Mr Nawaz Sharif and I agree. Mr Nawaz says, ‘You should be the prime minister for the first five-year term,’ and after that five-year term he wants to run. So I hope that we can move forward. That’s a verbal discussion between us, but that is what he has said to me.”

However, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, the secretary-general of the PML (N), denied there was any such offer from Mr Sharif. “The people will decide in fair elections who forms the government,” he said. The opposing claims reveal the tensions between opposition groups as they jockey for position in a fast-changing political scene.

For either to become prime minister would require General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s embattled president, to reverse his position that neither of the former premiers will be allowed back into the country, and to rescind a law barring them from a third term.

Gen Musharraf is under US pressure to honour a pledge to step out of uniform by December, allow back the two exiled leaders and abandon plans to be re-elected by the outgoing parliament before fresh elections throw up a less favourable electoral college.

Ms Bhutto acknowledged that her PPP had been discussing a possible deal with Gen Musharraf that would enable him to continue as president, provided he agreed to quit as army chief.

“We’ve had discussions, but they have not moved forward,” she said. “We’ve left all options open.”

A poll published in April by the Washington-based International Republican Institute showed the PPP to be the most popular party, with support from 25.7per cent of sampled voters – an increase of nearlyfour points since last September.

Support for Mr Sharif’s PML (N) rose by 1.3 points to 15.1 per cent, behind the ruling pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Q), which lost three points to 24.3 per cent. However, the poll does not reflect public anger at Gen Musharraf’s recent decision to dismiss the Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

US backs Musharraf and calls for fair elections

John Negroponte, the US deputy secretary of state, at the weekend offered US support to General Pervez Musharraf, after stressing Washington’s desire to see Pakistan’s president guide the country to free and fair elections later this year, writes Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad.

His remarks were a clear indication of the Bush administration’s apparent determination to support Gen Musharraf in spite of his growing domestic political problems, western diplomats said.

“We believe that we have an excellent partnership together [with Pakistan] in facing various challenges” Mr Negroponte told journalists. “We strongly believe that those elections should go forward, that [they] will be a positive development . . and that it would be important that these elections be carried out in a fair, free and transparent manner.”

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