M A I N   N E W S

Mush in S. Arabia, Sharif lists terms

Islamabad, November 20
President Pervez Musharraf today reached Saudi Arabia leaving a trail of speculation that he was on a mission to end his political isolation at home by reaching out to arch foe Nawaz Sharif. However, Sharif has laid down seven pre-requisites for meeting him.

Musharraf has been under pressure from the opposition, the USA and other Western governments to revoke the emergency he announced on November 3 and ensure elections in January are held under free and fair conditions.

“It looks like General Musharraf is trying hard to open channels with Sharif,” Shafqat Mahmood, a former minister turned analyst, remarked on the sudden two-day visit. Sharif, a former Prime Minister deposed by Musharraf eight years ago in a coup, is living in exile in Saudi Arabia.

“He’s been never more weak than now. He’s been condemned internationally, locally, civil society, everybody is after him,” Mahmood said.

Western governments fear that stifling democracy any longer could play into the hands of Islamist militants who are already a dangerous influence in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

But they have also stopped well short of threatening any measures that could destabilise a moderate Muslim leader who has been crucial to fighting al Qaida. The election commission announced today parliamentary polls would be held on January 8, the date chosen by Musharraf, but the unpopular military leader has been warned the election will lack credibility if the emergency remains in place.

In an interview to the Voice of America, Sharif said his demands included an immediate end to emergency and the annulment of the Provisional Constitutional Order, besides Musharraf’s immediate retirement from the army and restoration of all deposed judges ‘with honour and dignity”.

Sharif also revealed that Musharraf had been sending him feelers for the past few months. He claimed that the General had expressed a desire to meet him on at least three occasions, twice during the fasting month of Ramazan, and once afterward.

“Thrice he tried to contact me, approach me in the past two months, saying that he wants to come here in Jeddah. I regretted it, I said no, it will not serve any purpose,” Sharif said.

Sharif said that he declined to meet Musharraf every time since “it would lead to speculations and misperceptions. If the General wants national reconciliation, he must meet certain conditions after which a meeting could be held with the leadership of the entire opposition, including the All-Parties Democratic Movement and the Pakistan People’s Party, on a national agenda,” he added.

Meanwhile, three ousted judges of the Supreme Court have declared that General Musharraf was not fit to contest the October 6 presidential elections.

The judges, who are presently under house arrest following the imposition of emergency, said frequent military interventions and destabilisation of elected governments had given “rise to indiscipline, disorder, unemployment, massive corruption, intolerance and extremism in Pakistan, which must be eradicated and eliminated with iron hands,” The News reported. Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan and Mian Shakirullah Jan, who refused to take oath under Provisional Constitutional Order, have also observed in their joint judgment that continuation of Musharraf as army chief beyond December 31, 2004, was “illegal and unlawful”. — Reuters & ANI



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