Who is Facilitating the Benazir-Musharraf Parleys

Benazir needs the deal with Musharraf more than he does
By Khalid Hasan: Daily Times, September 3, 2007

WASHINGTON: Talks between the Pakistan People’s Party and General Pervez Musharraf’s representatives have stalled but they have not broken down, although they are being held by “the slenderest of threads”, an informed source in London said on Saturday.

However, the President’s camp believes that Bhutto needs them more than they need her. The shoe, as such, is on the other foot, contrary to the impression given by the PPP.

US and UK “facilitators” are now said to have asked Benazir Bhutto to tone down her demands. No such suggestion has been made to President Musharraf.

The President’s principal troubleshooter Tariq Aziz left London for Islamabad on Saturday afternoon. Contrary to press reports, Lt Gen Hamid Javed never came to London because of a death in his family. Benazir Bhutto told a news conference on Saturday that the talks had stalled. Without naming the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) or its leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, she blamed them for the impasse. She took care not to offer any criticism of President Musharraf, who cannot be faulted for lack of trying to strike a deal with Bhutto and her party.

The President always knew exactly how the PML-Q would react to Bhutto’s demand for the repeal of the third-term restriction on the office of the prime minister. The government party’s public rejection of that particular Bhutto demand was a duly scripted affair designed to force Bhutto to scale down here demands. The government believes that there is “life after Benazir Bhutto” and Plan B is ready and in place if talks with Bhutto collapse entirely, which they might well do. A source close to the parleys said that if Bhutto wanted a deal, she would have to come down from the high horse she had been riding, otherwise she had “no deal”. President Musharraf’s camp believes that Bhutto needs a deal more than the president needs it.

According to Asian Times, former British foreign secretary Jack Straw undertook the delicate mission first to sound out exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto about reaching a political understanding with Musharraf. Straw’s three-year mission is expected to come to fruition this weekend. In the Anglo-US plan, while London provided the brain, Washington undertook the tough assignment of persuading Musharraf to change horses midstream. In turn cajoling, threatening and conciliating, Washington softened up the general over the past several months.

In case, the talks between Musharraf and Bhutto collapse entirely, the PPP’s workers may make a token appearance at when Nawaz Sharif arrives in Islamabad on September 10, but the party as such will stay put.

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