Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gen. Pervez Musharraf may sense that his days as president of Pakistan could be numbered. So he has been talking to his former archrival, Benazir Bhutto, about a possible power-sharing arrangement. Bhutto, who was twice prime minister of Pakistan and is currently leader of the popular opposition party PPP, is on the verge of deciding whether to strike a deal with Musharraf or join the opposition against him. She sat down with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth in New York last week to talk about her options. Excerpts:

Q. Some say that if you make a deal with President Musharraf to return to power, it will diminish your popularity.

A. Many in my party have been urging me to distance myself from General Musharraf. They say his popularity ratings are down. But I am trying to convince them that the international community and the armed forces have confidence in Musharraf, and therefore we need to work out a solution [with him]. Our goal is to strengthen the forces of moderation and that's why we've been involved in this negotiation with General Musharraf.

Now we are at a critical point where I am being tugged in two directions -- between those in the party who believe in dialogue and those who think that time is running out and that we can't spend more time [talking] unless there are upfront confidence-building measures.

What have you asked President Musharraf to do?

We want a balance of power, reforms for a fair election, lifting of the ban on a twice-elected prime minister [running for a third term], as well as immunity for all holders of public office prior to 1999 or 2000. Where there are unproven charges that go back now for more than a decade or two, a chapter should be closed. General Musharraf has told me he wants this.

Did you tell Musharraf that he would have to step down as army chief of staff if you entered into partnership with him?

I told him that we could not have a working arrangement with the army chief of staff. His term finishes either this November or December, so we are concerned that there should not be an extension on that.

What did he say?

He has said that he would respect the constitution. Even if the president is not the army chief of staff, he would still appoint the heads of the military, so he would still control the military as the commander in chief.

What are the other issues that stand between you and him?

One issue is the power of the president to sack the parliament. This power was used in the '90s to destabilize democracy, so we are saying it must go.

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