Musharraf seeking power-sharing pact



By Stephen Graham

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Gen. Pervez Musharraf will make a final attempt to seal a power-sharing deal with exiled former Premier Benazir Bhutto that could keep him in power, a senior official said Monday.

Envoys for Musharraf and Bhutto will meet Monday evening or Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Dawn News television. However, a spokesman for Bhutto said no such meeting had been arranged.

Musharraf and Bhutto have been discussing a pact that would shore up the U.S.-allied president’s troubled re-election bid while allowing the former prime minister to return to Pakistan and contest parliamentary elections.

But Bhutto has failed to win a public commitment from Musharraf that he will quit as army chief or give up the presidential power to fire the government.

Musharraf’s supporters have balked at Bhutto’s demand that she be allowed to return and run for a third term as prime minister.

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    With Musharraf up for re-election between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, Ahmed said there would be no time for another round of negotiations and that the talks would likely fail.

    “I don’t think the hard-liners of both sides will allow agreement,” Ahmed said.

    Without an agreement, analysts say Musharraf could be drifting toward his political demise.

    Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, said no arrangements had been made for a meeting at any level. He said the party, Pakistan’s main opposition, had told the government about its outstanding concerns but had received no response.

    “Nothing has been lined up,” he told The Associated Press.

    Musharraf has dominated Pakistani politics since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999 and became a key U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

    But his authority has waned since a botched attempt to fire the country’s top judge in March triggered protests and widespread calls for an end to military rule.

    Washington continues to praise Musharraf, but is also pressing for a broader-based government that can strengthen Pakistan’s efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

    A coalition of Islamist parties – an alternative ally – said Monday it would stay in opposition. The six party Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal “will neither accept President Musharraf in uniform nor without uniform,” its president Qazi Hussain Ahmed said.