Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time running out for Bhutto, Musharraf to reach deal

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/ Page 8

 Time running out for Bhutto, Musharraf to reach deal

Updated: 2007-09-14 07:13

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf has little time left to seal
a pact with former premier Benazir Bhutto that a senior official said
yesterday was vital to stop Pakistan's slide into political crisis.

Underlining the parallel threat from Islamic militancy, officials said up
to 30 insurgents and 10 soldiers died in fighting near the Afghan border,
just as a senior US official visited Pakistan to discuss efforts against
the Taliban and Al-Qaida.

Musharraf, a key Washington ally, has been trying for months to secure an
agreement with Bhutto that would allow her to return from exile and help
him get another term. But with the presidential election due in less than
five weeks, the two sides have yet to resolve key differences on how they
might share power.

"The ball is in the court of the government, and the time has almost
completely run out," said Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for Bhutto's
Pakistan People's Party. "The window is not completely shut, but no
agreement has been reached."

The warning follows an attempt by another former prime minister, Nawaz
Sharif, to return to Pakistan and challenge Musharraf, whose authority
has eroded since March when he tried unsuccessfully to oust the Supreme
Court's top judge. A pact with Bhutto could help Musharraf overcome
expected legal challenges to another run.

Bhutto wants authorities to drop corruption cases pending against her and
insists Musharraf must step down as army chief. However, Musharraf's
political allies are resisting her demands and want him to retain much of
his sweeping powers.

Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the main sticking-point
was Bhutto's demand for the repeal of a bar on anyone serving more than
twice as prime minister. Bhutto led two short-lived governments in the
1990s and has said she would like to become prime minister again.

The president's army role was no obstacle, Ahmed said on Geo television.
He urged Bhutto to agree to a compromise to avoid "a new crisis" in

Babar said that Bhutto, who left Pakistan in 1999 over corruption
allegations, will return "irrespective of what the regime does" and that
her party will announce her arrival date today.


(China Daily 09/14/2007 page8)



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