Tags: Pakistan: | Army | Moves | Against | Pro-Taliban | Element

Pakistan: Army Moves Against Pro-Taliban Element

Thursday, 07 November 2002 12:00 AM

The sources said that one of the senior leaders of the opposition Pakistan People's Party -- Makhdoum Amin Fahim -- is likely to head this government as prime minister.

On Wednesday evening, Pakistan's military ruler President Gen. Pervez Musharraf chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting, which decided to delay the inaugural session of the new parliament for a week. The parliament was scheduled to meet on Friday to administer oath to the 342 lawmakers elected in the Oct. 10 elections.

The decision to delay the session followed a move by the main opposition leader, and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to back a pro-Taliban cleric as the country's future prime minister.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman is one of the key leaders of a six-member religious alliance called MMA, which fought the election on an anti-American stance. It emerged as the largest parties in the provinces of Northwest Frontier and Balcuhistan, both bordering Afghanistan where anti-American feelings are high.

Bhutto, who heads the PPP, decided to back Rahman after Musharraf refused to allow her to return home and lead her party. Before making her move, Bhutto also traveled to Washington where she tried to convince U.S. officials to dump Musharraf and support democratic forces instead.

Sources close to Bhutto say that the Americans appeared reluctant to abandon Musharraf who is considered a key ally for supporting the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

But Bhutto's move to back the pro-Taliban cleric, the sources said, forced both Islamabad and Washington to take the Pakistani leader more seriously.

Senior aides to Musharraf told journalists in Islamabad that the U.S. embassy in Islamabad is now helping Musharraf negotiate the deal for forming a government of national consensus.

Besides Fahim, the new government would also include several senior members of Bhutto's party.

The pro-army faction of the Pakistan Muslim League party will also get a major share in the new government. The faction has the largest number of seats in the new parliament, 118 in a house of 342.

Bhutto's PPP has 81 seats followed by the religious alliance MMA, which has 60.

Even with Bhutto's support and the PPP's 81 seats, Rahman is 31 short of the required 172 parliamentary votes to be elected prime minister.

But the move caused concern in Islamabad and the United States. If he succeeds, Rahman would be the first cleric ever to head a government in Pakistan.

Political pundits in Pakistan, however, described Bhutto's support for the cleric as a political move aimed at strong-arming Musharraf.

Before announcing support for Rahman, Bhutto sent demands to the president, urging him to withdraw corruption charges against her, release her husband Asif Zardari -- who was imprisoned for corruption -- and ensure she will not be arrested when she returns to Pakistan.

Bhutto has been living in exile in London and Dubai for the past four years and a Pakistani court sentenced her to prison in absentia on corruption charges.

In return, Bhutto offered to support Musharraf for the next five years.

Apparently, it was after her "not so successful" meetings with U.S. officials in Washington that Bhutto decided to back Rahman, PPP sources say.

Bhutto could still shift her stance if Islamabad and Washington show interest in her demands and allow her to return home safely, these sources stressed.

According to the new deal, being finalized in Islamabad, MMA will be allowed to form the government in the Northwest Frontier Province where it has a clear majority.

The provinces of Punjab will be given to the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League while Bhutto's party will rule the southern Sindh province with the help of a secular but violent ethnic group called MQM.

The MQM will also share power with the PPP and the pro-army PML in the center.

In Baluchistan, the military government is trying to put together a coalition of political and tribal groupings to prevent the MMA from forming government in another province bordering Afghanistan.

Government sources in Islamabad said that if the negotiations with the PPP succeed, Bhutto's husband may also be released on bail. He has already spent more than three years in prison on corruption charges.

They said that other party leaders, facing similar charges, may also be pardoned but Bhutto may still have to stay away from Pakistan for two years.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The sources said that one of the senior leaders of the opposition Pakistan People's Party -- Makhdoum Amin Fahim -- is likely to head this government as prime minister. On Wednesday evening, Pakistan's military ruler President Gen. Pervez Musharraf chaired an emergency...
Pakistan:,Army,Moves,Against,Pro-Taliban,Element
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2002-00-07
Thursday, 07 November 2002 12:00 AM
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