Musharraf, Benazir, Aziz reject deal speculations
Apr 10, 2007 - 10:28:59 AM

Islamabad, April 10 - Clearing the air after weeks of speculation, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto have said that no political deal was in the offing between them.

Musharraf sought to end days of rumour-mongering that hinted at his wanting to dump Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as part of the deal, blaming him, among other things, for allegedly mismanaging the crisis over suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Aziz too broke his silence Monday to say that not only was there no deal with Bhutto but that it was unlikely that she would come home and face detention for a number of corruption cases pending against her.

According to media reports, any Musharraf-Bhutto deal is an anathema to Aziz and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League - that Musharraf has blessed.

Bhutto on her part asserted that she had been 'in contact' with the Musharraf regime since 2002. But the parleys, through interlocutors, were 'routine' and that there was no way she was going to strike a deal with the military ruler.

A 'president in uniform' is unacceptable, she asserted Monday in an interview with a private TV channel.

Bhutto reiterated her Pakistan People's Party's - commitment to democracy. She dismissed reports that the government had offered her to become the prime minister, adding that all such reports were nothing more than a 'disinformation campaign'.

Analysts pointed to compulsions for both Musharraf and Bhutto against a deal, even as Western media and think tanks have said, apparently reflecting Western concerns and hopes, that such a deal would help the two fight off the Islamist parties and in the long run the religious militancy.

Bhutto has been confabulating with her rival and another former premier, Nawaz Sharif, and leaders of the centrist Alliance for Restoration of Democracy -. She has assured Sharif that she was not about to ditch the opposition alliance.

But Bhutto has serious reservations about any truck with the rightwing Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal -. The opposition divide helps Musharraf and the parties that support him.

Analysts say a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance, even if likely and politically feasible, cannot take place now when Musharraf is mired in a controversy over Justice Chaudhry's suspension.

A statement from Musharraf's office followed media reports and comments by his high profile Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid, who characterised the parleys as having entered the 'semi finals'.

'A spokesman for the president has strongly refuted all speculations regarding change in the government and a deal with an opposition party,' the statement said.

The government recently shifted a veteran anti-corruption investigator from cases against Bhutto, who lives in exile but still leads the PPP, the country's largest anti-Musharraf political group.

The transfer of the corruption investigator fanned speculation that Musharraf may sanction Bhutto's return to Pakistan.

Musharraf toppled Sharif's elected government and seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Both Sharif and Bhutto, elected prime ministers twice each in the 1980s and 1990s, could not complete their terms in office.

Musharraf has in the past said they have no further role to play in Pakistani politics.

Sharif and Bhutto have been in exile since 1999. Bhutto left to avoid arrest on charges of graft. Sharif's passage to Saudi Arabia was part of a deal with Musharraf and was brokered by the Saudi royalty. Under that deal, Sharif cannot return home for 10 years.

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