Bhutto triggering rift in Pakistani alliance


Karachi : Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto's back-channel diplomacy with the government has reportedly triggered a rift between the two principal elements of a key opposition alliance and it could only be a matter of time before they part.

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"A gulf between the two major components of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), widens as reports of Benazir Bhutto's back-channel contact with the ruling establishment gain ground," Dawn reported Tuesday.

It quoted insiders privy to the "actual extent of disenchantment" between the PPP and the PML-N as saying it was "only a matter of time before a parting of ways took place".

The two parties also differed over the role of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) religious alliance in the ARD strategy against President Pervez Musharraf's intention of getting himself re-elected by the present national and provincial assemblies.

Reports of a "deal" between Musharraf and Bhutto had upset not only PML-N workers but also PPP loyalists who feared the party would lose credibility if it struck such a deal.

"There is some confusion over some recent statements of Benazir Bhutto. And, yes, PML-N workers are concerned about it. But the feelings of PPP workers on rumours of a deal is not different from those of our workers," PML-N leader Sardar Rahim said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a provincial leader of the PPP said that like many other leaders, he too had no knowledge of the party's backdoor negotiations with Musharraf.

"A very few people in the party know what is going on, but I have no trust in these generals who want the PPP's support after failing to improve the country's economic and social situation. It is my own opinion that the PPP should not be a part of a military government," he said.

PPP deputy secretary-general Senator Raza Rabbani categorically rejected reports of a deal with the regime – but admitted to the backdoor contacts.

"The government is in contact with other opposition parties and it has similar contacts with the PPP through informal channels. The contacts are all about holding of free, fair and transparent elections through an independent election commission and in the presence of a neutral caretaker set-up. Nothing has been formalised," Rabbani maintained.

Sources in the PML-N felt that if the PPP supported the Musharraf regime in any form, it would be beneficial to their party.

"The people of Pakistan will reject any party which supports the military dictatorship. Our workers are happy that they would get rid of the PPP if it strikes a deal with Musharraf," said a PML-N leader, speaking on condition of anonymity.