Pakistan’s Bhutto, Musharraf agree on accord – SMH – 05 Oct.07

Former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf today agreed on a national reconciliation accord that paves the way for a power-sharing deal, the government and her party said.

The agreement gives an amnesty for politicians who served in Pakistan between 1988 and 1999, effectively clearing opposition leader Bhutto of the corruption charges that forced her into exile eight years ago.

The deal takes some of the pressure off staunch US ally Musharraf ahead of a presidential election on Saturday, a vote that Bhutto had earlier threatened to rob of credibility by pulling her MPs from parliament.

It came after a day of frantic negotiations in Islamabad and in London where two-time prime minister Bhutto held talks with key members of her Pakistan People’s Party.

“They have agreed on the draft and it will be issued by the president tomorrow. Benazir Bhutto has given her assent,” Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid, a close confidant of the president, told AFP.

Bhutto has vowed to return to Pakistan by October 18. It will be her second homecoming after she was driven out of the country by military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Musharraf is expected to win a second term in Saturday’s vote by the two national houses of parliament and four provincial assemblies, but would benefit from Bhutto’s support ahead of general elections due in early 2008.

He has said he will quit as army chief before November 15 if he is elected.

“The agreement says that there will be an across-the-board indemnity for public office holders between 1988 and 1999,” a senior government official who has seen the draft said on condition of anonymity.

It also says that if Pakistan’s main graft-busting body wants to lodge a case against a politician it must first go through a special parliamentary committee “to avoid allegations of political motivations”, the official said.

“The ordinance is not party or person-specific.”

Bhutto’s party has for its part agreed to withdraw a legal petition filed by its vice president in the Supreme Court that seeks to have the presidential election postponed, the official said.

A senior party member in Islamabad confirmed the deal.

“The agreement has been done with the government and we expect the government to issue it tomorrow. We have given it our go-ahead,” party lawyer Farooq Naik told AFP.

Officials said the amnesty agreement would not apply to ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999 and who was deported soon after flying back to Pakistan in September.

Bhutto said earlier that if a definitive deal was reached, her party members would not quit parliament, but would instead either vote for their own candidate in the polls or abstain.

Bhutto has previously demanded that Musharraf should grant her an amnesty, give up his power to dismiss parliament and the prime minister and change the constitution so that premiers can serve a third term.

She said earlier that the other terms would be dealt with later.

The general has been in talks with Bhutto for a US-backed deal that would bring two Western-friendly leaders together in a country wracked by violence linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

Islamic rebels holding more than 200 Pakistani soldiers in a troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan killed three of their hostages on Thursday, while 26 people died in violence in the frontier region the previous day.


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