ISLAMABAD, March 10: While the Pakistan People’s Party was still undecided about its nominee for the post of prime minister, its coalition ally Pakistan Muslim League-N on Monday came out openly against the candidacy of PPP vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim because of what a PML-N leader termed his frequent contacts with President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Fahim hit back at what he called a ‘character assassination campaign’ launched by PML-N leader Khwaja Mohammad Asif, saying that he had been meeting the president on the directives of the late party leader Benazir Bhutto. He also said that PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari was aware of his meetings with Gen (retd) Musharraf after Ms Bhutto’s assassination.

Khwaja Asif told Dawn that the PML-N leadership had categorically told the PPP that it had serious ‘reservations’ over the nomination of Mr Fahim for the post of prime minister “due to his constant contacts” with President Musharraf.

“We fear that he can be a proxy of Gen (retd) Musharraf. The frequency of his contacts with Musharraf has increased with the passage of time and Mr Fahim’s nomination as prime minister can jeopardise PML-N’s relationship with the PPP,” he said.

Quoting what he called “our information,” the PML-N leader alleged that Mr Fahim had met President Musharraf even at a time when the body of Ms Bhutto was in a hospital in Rawalpindi on Dec 27 last year. Mr Fahim had held another meeting with the president within the next four days, he said.

While no comment was immediately available from Mr Zardari or any other PPP office-bearer, Mr Fahim appeared on a private television channel saying that Ms Bhutto herself had been sending him to meet President Musharraf to discuss “one thing or another” and that she was aware of all such meetings.

He said that Mr Zardari was aware of his meetings with the president after Ms Bhutto’s death.

Mr Fahim said he had lodged a protest with the PML-N leadership over Khwaja Asif’s “character assassination campaign” and talked to Mr Zardari and PML-N president Shahbaz Shahrif.

Khwaja Asif said it was a matter of concern that a person was meeting President Musharraf immediately after his party’s chairperson had been assassinated.

He said the PML-N had told the PPP at their meeting in Bhurban on Sunday that it accepted the party’s right to nominate anyone for the office of the prime minister, but PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said that the nominee should not be a “wired” person having antennas in all directions. He said he had great respect for Mr Fahim but it was a fact that he had been in contact with President Musharraf for a long time.

PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also met Mr Zardari in Islamabad and left without talking to the media.

CONSULTATIONS: Mr Zardari, meanwhile, continued to hold meetings with the PPP’s MNAs-elect from different regions to finalise the name of the party’s candidate.

According to PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar, Mr Zardari met the MNAs-elect from Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan on Monday.

The co-chairman briefed the members on the talks held with the PML-N on Sunday and the proposed restoration of judges through the National Assembly.

The participants expressed confidence in the leadership of Mr Zardari and endorsed the authority given to him to nominate the party’s candidate for the office of prime minister.

Mr Zardari announced formation of a permanent ethics committee of the party to keep a watch, investigate complaints and recommend action against holders of public office.

The last meeting in the series will be held on Tuesday with members-elect from Gujranwala, Lahore and Multan.

US AMBASSADOR: A source said US Ambassador Anne W Patterson held talks on the political situation in the country with the PPP co-chairman at Zardari House.

However, the party’s office-bearers and spokesmen said that they could neither confirm nor deny the meeting.

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