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Benazir leaves door open for clinching deal: Return date to be announced on Sept 14

Published Sep 02, 2007 12:00am

LONDON, Sept 1: Contrary to expectations, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has put off at least by 13 days the decision on when to return home, perhaps still hoping to hear from President Musharraf on the seemingly deadlocked talks on the proposed power-sharing arrangement between them.

She told a crowded press conference here on Saturday at the end of a two-day meeting of PPP’s Central Executive Committee that on Sept 14 her party would make known in Pakistan the date of her return home.

Despite being closely questioned on the matter she assiduously avoided agreeing with the suggestions that the talks had failed or were even in a deadlock mode.

Ms Bhutto said she had gathered from the media that some elements within the ruling party were objecting to some points in the proposed draft deal.

Media has been reporting that PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh, other senior leaders of the party like Farooq Leghari and the MQM had raised a number of objections to the proposed deal.

Ms Bhutto said when she claimed that 80 per cent of the deal had been completed or that Gen Musharraf had agreed to doff his uniform she was only quoting Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid, who she said had been making these claims to the media all through last week.

She said if Gen Musharraf went with Chaudhry Shujaat he would only be strengthening the hands of those who were defying the writ of the government and promoting religious obscurantists.

All that she kept confirming was that she had made counter proposals when she met the three top-level emissaries of President Musharraf last Monday and was still expecting a response from the other side.

“Since I have received no word from Musharraf, either way, I cannot say whether the talks have failed or are still alive,” she added.

She dismissed the idea as a non-starter when asked how she would respond if Gen Musharraf were to send Chaudhry Shujaat to Dubai to sort out his problems with her.

She implied that it was Musharraf not Shujaat who held the key to the talks.

She did not appear overly disturbed by the fact that Nawaz Sharif would be going much ahead of her and said she wished Mr Sharif well and that both were working for restoration of democracy and that there was no competition between them on that score.

On the accusation that she was violating the Charter of Democracy by cutting a deal with a military dictator, she reiterated on position that the CoD did not bar anybody from talking to military dictator on transferring power to civilian elected representatives, “the CoD had put a bar on seeking army’s help for toppling elected governments”.

When told that would not her return home at this juncture destabilise the country, she said she was asked to remain out of the country in 2002 as well and now she had been out for the last five years. “But even my absence for all these years did not help matters much, in fact the country is much more destabilised today than it was in 2002 with Balochistan in the grip of an insurgency, tribal regions defying the writ of Islamabad with prices of even essential going out of the reach of the poor, with power failures all over the country.”

She once again reiterated her position on the APDM and said she could not sit with the MMA because it continued to be a coalition partner of Musharraf’s government which had launched military operations against the people of Balochistan. “They should first resign from this government and then only we could consider sitting with them.”

She said both the US and UK were keenly and closely following the developments in Pakistan. “But they are not playing the role of upfront mediators, but they get their briefings from both sides about how the talks are going.”

Reuters adds: Ms Bhutto said the stumbling blocks in the talks had been over the sovereignty of parliament and over the presidential and parliamentary elections.