Rumours of 'imminent' political change grip Pakistan
Apr 7, 2007 - 5:57:49 PM

Islamabad, April 7 - Pakistan is agog with rumours of 'imminent' top-level political changes in the backdrop of a flurry of high-profile meetings, especially between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz - with the two meeting thrice in a span of 12 hours this week.

There is media speculation for and against Shaukat Aziz being changed, for allegedly 'mishandling' the crisis over the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry last month and the nationwide protests it had caused.

Though ministers have denied such a move, but Dawn, The News and The Nation newspapers among others said the denials had not stopped the gossip.

The crisis is also being attributed to a 'deal' between Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Off the record, officials and politicians confirm that 'negotiations' between representatives of Musharraf and Bhutto were continuing. National Security Council Secretary Tariq Aziz, a Musharraf confidant, met Bhutto in Dubai two days ago.

This has led to much speculation among political analysts at home and abroad. Strategic Foresight -, a US think tank, in its analysis said that such a 'deal' was in the offing since Musharraf needed Bhutto's support for his political survival.

Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid added fuel to the political fire by first denying having said that a 'deal' had been concluded, but later saying that it had crossed the 'quarter-finals' and had 'entered semi-finals', The Nation newspaper said.

Dawn reported a spate of high-profile meetings on Thursday and Friday, which caused 'quite a stir' in the federal capital, fuelling rumours about 'some drastic changes either in the government's composition or its policies'.

It noted that Aziz, just back from 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi, held three meetings with Musharraf and one lengthy sitting with Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, chief of pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League -, 'lending credence to speculation that some important decisions are underway'.

Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani however said: 'Rest assured that nothing is going to change as the government is strong from within. The rumours are mere disinformation.'

Considerable significance is being attached to the government's move to disband the National Accountability Bureau's special wing dealing with corruption cases against political leaders, particularly Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari.

'The observers were in no doubt that the government and the Pakistan People's Party were about to clinch a deal that could help re-elect President Musharraf for another five years,' said Dawn.

It noted as an indication of 'the gravity of the situation' a statement issued after the Musharaf-Aziz meeting, which read: 'The two leaders also exchanged views on the political environment in the country and issues of national importance.'

Rukhsana Aziz, wife of the prime minister, hosted a dinner for Musharraf and family at the Prime Minister's House Thursday evening.

The prime minister called on the president again Friday morning at the President's House in Islamabad.

Speculation prompted denials by the presidency, a top military commander and the new information secretary that the prime minister was on his way out, Daily Times said.

'We have not even imagined any such thing,' a presidential spokesman was reported as saying. But sources insist that the change is in the offing. They even quote unnamed 'well-connected' sources that it's time for a change.

The News said the prime minister has curtailed his engagements and is engaged in consultations with his close friends.

'Sources close to him insist that the ongoing activities are normal political exercise, as the country is heading towards elections, and such 'gimmicks' are popular political tricks for catching the attention of the people and the quarters calling the shots,' it said.

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