Benazir refuses to back Musharraf

July 31, 2007 - 0:0

LONDON (The News)-- Former Pakistani prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Benazir Bhutto insisted on Sunday she would not strike a power-sharing deal with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf so long as he remained the Army chief.

In a flurry of interviews with the Pakistani and international media, she refused to comment on reports of her meeting with President Pervez Musharraf in Abu Dhabi on Friday, saying instead, talks with the government were under way but a settlement had not been reached.
She said she wouldn’t deny or confirm any meeting with President Musharraf till the final outcome of the negotiations. “I am in London holding (her party’s) parliamentary meeting and there the government’s spokesman has denied it and the Pakistani Embassy (in UAE) has also denied it,” she told a Pakistani private TV channel.
Benazir said she was not in a position to tell if some understanding has been reached between the government and the PPP. “Some headway has been made in the talks with the government, however more headway is needed,” she said. “Dialogue with the government was going on but a settlement had not been reached. When there is, we will surely inform.”
When asked by Geo TV about any future meeting between her and Musharraf, she replied: “It would be premature to say anything about it at this stage.” Responding to a question, she said the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) should become part of either the government or the opposition. The PPP would hold talks with the MMA if it is in the opposition. In case it sides with the government even then we are ready to go for talks with them. But the opposition will have to board one boat.”
Speaking to Britain’s Sky News television from Leeds in northern England, Benazir said it was likely she would return from exile to stand in the next general elections, due by early next year. “I think the chances right now are pretty good. It’s about 90 per cent out of 100 for me to stand in those elections,” she said.
She has had talks with Musharraf about a possible return to Pakistan but maintained she had grave reservations about a uniformed president. “It’s very important to deal with who’s there. He is the person there and if we can find a way to get the uniformed presidency out of the picture, we can find a way to get democracy back ... we will be looking forward. We’re not there yet.”
Put to her straight that she would not enter any kind of power sharing deal with President Musharraf as long as he remained head of the Army, Benazir replied: “That’s right. The post of the Army chief must be separated from that of the president.”
She said an amendment passed by Musharraf banning a twice-elected prime minister from seeking office a third time was “an issue which is part of the discussion between us”. “If he doesn’t bring the change, if the people of Pakistan, through their elected representatives wish to lift that ban, they certainly can,” she said. “(Exiled) former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and I have come to an understanding that we would lift this ban.”
Asked why she wanted to return to front-line Pakistani politics, Benazir said she felt her country was being threatened by extremists. “If the people from Pakistan vote for me, certainly I would to take on that job,” Benazir said.
“But this is more than a struggle for me: this is a struggle for the heart and the soul of Pakistan. We stand at the crossroads. Very critical choices have to be made between the forces of the past and the forces of the future. There is militancy, terrorism and violence. My government and I have had experience of dealing with it. If we could get another opportunity, I would certainly take the challenge.”
She added: “I don’t want the people of Pakistan to face terror at the hands of the Taliban and their allies in al-Qaeda and become refugees in foreign lands. I want to try and save my country, if I can,” she said.
In a German magazine interview to be published on Monday, Benazir warned of a looming Islamist revolution mounted from the country’s Madrassas. Benazir said she was planning her return to Pakistan this year to help stabilize the country in the face of the extremist threat.
“The Red Mosque was just a warm-up for what will happen if the religious schools are not disarmed,” Benazir told the news weekly Focus. She added that Islamist extremist leaders were plotting to overthrow Musharraf’s government and had converted Madrassas in cities into military headquarters with well-stocked arsenals.
She accused Musharraf of adopting an “appeasement policy” toward extremists that had only strengthened them. “We must pursue these people and take them to court,” she said. She admitted that she had made mistakes during her time in office in trying to work with the Taliban to pacify the country