US consul general discusses political crisis with Bhutto

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : A senior US diplomat crossed barbed wire Thursday to meet former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who is under detention in a Lahore house, to discuss the situation in Pakistan.

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US Consul-General Brian Hunt met the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief for 40 minutes amid reports that she was redoubling efforts to bring the opposition together for a joint struggle to oust President Pervez Musharraf, whom she has described as the main obstacle to the restoration of democracy.

Police and administration helped him in crossing over barbed wire to meet the two time prime minister in PPP leader Latif Khosa’s residence in the posh Defence Housing Society that has been declared a sub-jail.

“Yes, the consul general stayed with Benazir Bhutto for 40 minutes and discussed the current political situation,” party spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told IANS.

When asked if he conveyed any special message before Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte’s arrival Friday, Babar said he was not fully aware of the details of the discussion.

Hunt described the meeting as part of the regular contacts with opposition leaders in Pakistan amid concern about the political crisis triggered by the emergency.

“It is very important that Pakistan moves towards full democracy and President General Pervez Musharraf resigns as chief of army staff, takes steps to ensure normal working of the opposition and holds general elections in time.”

He stated that emergency should be lifted and restrictions on the media withdrawn.

After international criticism and growing condemnation of the restrictions imposed on the media, the government has allowed the airing of Sky News and Fox News but the ban on BBC and CNN continues. All mainstream national channels are also still off air.

Hunt said he discussed the current political situation with Bhutto, who Tuesday called upon Musharraf to resign as president and army chief.

Bhutto, who returned home on Oct 18 after eight years in self-exile, also talked to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia for possible cooperation in the anti-Musharraf campaign.

Sharif, who was sent into exile after Musharraf overthrew his elected government in 1999, has assured Bhutto of his party’s cooperation in all anti-Musharraf efforts.

“Mr Sharif is ready to launch a joint struggle against the dictatorship,” Babar told IANS. He said Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Pathan leader Asfandyar Wali and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan were also ready to join hands with the PPP against the dictatorship.

“It’s time for Musharraf to go. There is a consensus among all opposition political parties at the moment that the general must step down to pave way for the return of democracy,” Bhutto was quoted as telling Dawn on Thursday.

She also said she would not work with Musharraf even if he quit his army chief’s post.

Bhutto had been in talks with Musharraf on a power-sharing deal. She called off the talks after the president declared an emergency earlier this month, saying she could no longer trust the military strongman.

“I’ve spoken to Nawaz Sharif today (Wednesday) on the subject and will contact him again. I want to hear the views of all opposition leaders to define the minimum common agenda for political parties to rally round,” Bhutto told the newspaper.

According to the former prime minister, she wanted to invite all opposition leaders to an interactive session over a cup of tea.

“I know most leaders are arrested and would not be able to come, but I want to have an interactive session so that we can learn from each other’s experiences and agree on a minimum common agenda of restoration of democracy and the rule of law,” Bhutto said.