Saturday, September 01, 2007

Negotiations on Pakistan Power-Sharing Deal Stalled

Negotiations on Pakistan Power-Sharing Deal Stalled
Former Prime Minister Bhutto Plans to Return Regardless of Outcome
By Griff Witte: Washington Post, September 1, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 1 -- Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto said Saturday that negotiations on a power-sharing agreement with Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, were at a standstill but that she would return from exile regardless of whether the two strike a deal.

Bhutto, who just three days ago had indicated the agreement was nearly complete, sounded pessimistic about the future of the talks as she spoke to reporters in London. She spoke out harshly against the president's political backers, who she blamed for allowing extremism to fester in Pakistan and, she said, have deliberately scuttled the deal in order to keep moderates like herself out of power.

The talks "failed because some elements within the ruling party, who have presided over the expansion of extremism and militancy, did not want the path of moderation," she said.

Bhutto's own party, however, had also been resistant to the deal. Many of her strongest supporters have expressed grave reservations about the idea of negotiating with Musharraf. They have urged her instead to ditch the talks and return to Pakistan to oppose the president's reelection.

Musharraf must be reelected between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 if he wants to serve another five-year term.

Bhutto said her party will announce on Sept. 14 when she will return to Pakistan. Without a deal in place, she could be in legal jeopardy once she lands because of several outstanding corruption cases against her. That may be one reason why she did not rule out the possibility that the talks with the government could be revived.

Musharraf backers said that even though Bhutto had claimed earlier this week that Musharraf agreed to retire from his post leading the army before his reelection, that step will actually come afterward.

"President Musharraf may relinquish the post of the chief of army staff during the current month, but it'll be after his election from the current assembly," said Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

Pakistan's Supreme Court could declare Musharraf ineligible to run. Under the constitution, the president cannot have worked as a government employee during the two years before election. Lawyers who are trying to knock Musharraf out of office say that means that even if he were to retire as army chief, he would be constitutionally prohibited from being reelected.

The lawyers are likely to get a sympathetic hearing at the Supreme Court, where the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, has been issuing decisions rejecting government views since he was reinstated in July, following Musharraf's botched attempt to fire him.

Bhutto said this week that if talks with the government succeeded, the parliament would waive the two-year prohibition on government employees in exchange for lifting a restriction that keeps prime ministers from serving more than two terms.

But officials from Musharraf's ruling Pakistan Muslim League indicated Friday that they have no intention of eliminating the two-term limit. They also said they would not accept Bhutto, who served two terms in the 1980s and 1990s, as prime minister.

It is unclear how Musharraf would react if the Supreme Court invalidated his candidacy. Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said the government was exploring "other constitutional options."

One of those options, according to government officials, is to declare a state of emergency, which would allow Musharraf to delay elections by a year and blunt the power of the courts. This month, the government seemed on the verge of declaring an emergency, only to pull back in response to domestic and international pressure.

Special correspondent Kamran Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.

Also See, Rebel With the Claws:Another Storm Mushararf has to Weather - Nawaz Sharif is returning;

Government Activates Diplomatic channels: Last Ditch Efforts to Clinch a deal with BB, Blocks Sharif's Return, Daily Times

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