LAHORE, March 18: The government is determined to hold elections on schedule in 2007 but disturbances in Balochistan and Waziristan or ‘unforeseen developments in the region’ may delay the process for one year, ruling PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Husain said on Saturday.

Talking to Dawn, he said some gloved hands were responsible for the worsening situation in Balochistan and Waziristan. He said overall conditions in the region were also leading to uncertainty and in case of an emergency situation the government might invoke the constitutional provision which empowers it to put the electoral process on hold for one year.

“The possibility of delaying the polls for a year cannot be ruled out,” he said.

Chaudhry Shujaat said he had been urging relevant authorities to implement the parliamentary party’s recommendations on Balochistan so that the situation could be normalised.

He said Jamhoori Watan Party president Akbar Bugti was safe and sound at his residence and reports that he was hiding somewhere were baseless. He pointed out that only a few days ago Nawab Bugti’s son-in-law had met him in Gujrat and informed that the Baloch leader was at his residence. The PML leader said he had asked Mr Bugti’s son-in-law whether the veteran leader wanted to go abroad, but he answered in the negative.

Answering a question, the Pakistan Muslim League chief said there was no restriction barring Benazir Bhutto from returning to Pakistan and taking part in elections. However, he added, under the constitution she was not eligible to become prime minister for a third time.

As for Mian Nawaz Sharif he said the exiled former prime minister could not come back or contest the election. He, however, added that to be able to return and take part in political activities Mr Sharif would have to approach the Saudi government which had played a role in taking him out of the country.

About Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal president Qazi Husain Ahmed’s reported claim that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had a strong desire to see Mr Sharif as the prime minister even if he had to buy votes for him, Chaudhry Shujaat said he did not think there was a contact between the two.

“I personally think that the two were not in contact with each other.”

When his attention was drawn to President George Bush’s ‘exhortation’ that the 2007 elections should be open and honest, the ruling PML leader said even the 2002 polls were free and fair.

He said whenever somebody alleged rigging, he obviously meant manipulations made by the state, and in Pakistan’s history the only polls which the state had rigged were held in 1977. The rigging, he recalled, had led to a bloody movement and the imposition of martial law.

He said rigging at the individual level was a common phenomenon across the world and even President Bush had been accused by his rivals of doing that.