Mushasrraf, Bhutto strike deal, say Pakistani media


Islamabad : Pakistan President Pervez Mushatrraf's re-election for a second term together with homecoming of exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has become a possibility after a "broad based understanding" reached between the two, the media reported Sunday.

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"A broad-based understanding between Musharraf and Bhutto was reached in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital Abu Dhabi," The News quoted a source privy to the deal as saying, noting that the development had surprised both Musharraf's supporters and opponents.

Bhutto, who heads the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has consented to accept Musharraf as president for a second term, saying she would not oppose his re-election in September-October this year, The News added.

According to the agreement, referred to as "the mother of all deals" in the media here, a neutral person may head a caretaker government that would conduct the general elections, also signalling an end to the present dispensation under Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

The deal, the newspaper said, was worked out at meetings held by Musharraf's aide Tariq Aziz and Rahman Malik, a former intelligence sleuth close to Bhutto.

After disclaimers from the Bhutto camp and a pro-forma official denial Saturday, confirmation was pouring in about the "secret" meeting between the two leaders in the UAE Friday.

Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, a known Musharraf confidante, told a TV channel that the two had also earlier met Jan 24.

"Things are moving ahead in the right direction with the PPP and one should be hopeful of a better future for both the parties (the government and PPP)," Rashid told Geo TV channel, without elaborating on the discussions between the two leaders.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Niazi said the constitution would be amended, ostensibly as part of the "deal", to remove a two-term restriction on Bhutto becoming the country's prime minister for the third time, according to Geo.

"Benazir has assured that her party legislators both in parliament and the provincial assemblies would abstain from the presidential election process without raising the issue of the uniform at any forum including the superior court," the unnamed source was quoted as saying.

The understanding between the two would give a clear edge to President Musharraf to be re-elected with a claimed 56 percent majority in the electoral college for the presidential polls.

"We have 56 percent of the total electorates with us and there is no difficulty to see President Musharraf through with a constitutional requirement of returning with simple majority," disclosed an official who also helped Tariq Aziz in fine-tuning the first phase of the understanding with Bhutto.

What appears to have been worked out is the political aspect of the deal, media reports say. However, the legalities of Bhutto's return need to be sorted out.

"If I would be an elected prime minister, I would like to have a strong president like Musharraf so that we can jointly deal with militancy, extremism and terrorism," Bhutto was quoted as saying to one of his confidants before she left London to meet the president in the UAE.