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PPP stakes claim to form govt
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has called for early convening of the National Assembly session to set in motion the process of government formation.

PPP leaders, who have been discussing possible formation of a coalition government with other opposition parties following the February 18 polls, asked President Pervez Musharraf to invite it to form the government.

The matter was also discussed during PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari’s meeting with newly elected lawmakers from Balochistan province, they said while asking the government to convene a session of the new National Assembly.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the Election Commission should notify official results without further delay and the session of the assembly be convened at the earliest.

The Election Commission is likely to announce the names of 60 women members elected on the reserve seats allocated proportionate to the number of seats won in the general elections. Ten more members would be elected on the seats reserved for minorities.

Officials have indicated that the earliest the session can be called is in the second week of March after completion of all formalities. Various parliamentary parties would choose their leaders and the party enjoying majority support would be invited to form the government.

No single party has won majority but the PPP has emerged as the single largest party. Former premier Nawaz Sharif has assured the support of his PML-N to the PPP-led government. Both parties are continuing intense consultations on details of their coalition. The PML-N has promised to join the Cabinet only after the reinstatement of deposed judges.

PML-N leader Khawaja Asif said today that both parties had sorted out most of the contentious issues, including the reinstatement of judges. “We are preparing to jointly form the government along with ANP,” Asif said.

PTI adds: Former premier Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party and the PPP last week announced plans to form coalition governments at the centre and in the provinces.

Senior PML-N leader Khwaja Muhammad Asif today called on Zardari to discuss cooperation between the two parties in forming the government. Asif told reporters he had no message for Zardari from Nawaz Sharif.

“My meeting is a continuation of the earlier meeting between the PPP and the PML-N on forming the government. We had agreed to have further consultations and to discuss the emerging political situation,” Asif said.

Meanwhile, the PPP on Sunday apologised to people of the restive Balochistan province for “injustices committed against them” by the previous regime and demanded that army operation against nationalist groups there be “stopped immediately”.

The PPP, whose co-chairman Zardari met newly- elected lawmakers from Balochistan here, said all political prisoners, including Baloch leader Akhtar Mengal, should be released

immediately and promised to work to give “maximum autonomy” to the provinces within the 1973 constitution. Baloch nationalists in the resource-rich province have been fighting for autonomy and greater share in royalties from the natural gas fields in the region.

A Pakistani Taliban militant leader, accused by the government of masterminding the killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto, today expressed willingness to hold talks with political parties opposed to President Pervez Musharraf that swept the general election.

Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for Pakistan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, told reporters in the northwestern city of Peshawar that rebels welcomed the victory of “anti-Musharraf forces”, which should not repeat the “mistakes” of the President.

Quoting from a statement by Mehsud, whom the Musharraf regime accuses of planning Bhutto’s assassination, Omar said, “The Taliban movement welcomes the victory of the anti-Musharraf parties in the polls and announces its willingness to enter into negotiations with them for bringing peace to the tribal areas. The Taliban are ready for negotiations with the parties as long as they do not re-impose war on the fighters. If they do so, then the Taliban will continue their activities.

The Taliban have no enmity with the political parties that have got the people’s mandate and they should avoid repeating the mistakes of Musharraf’s government.” Omar added that the opposition parties had won the February 18 polls because the Taliban had “gained the sympathy of the people” by opposing the policies of Musharraf, which were “dictated” by the US.

He also warned the parties forming the new government that the militants did not want fighting, they would not hesitate to retaliate if war was “imposed” on them.

Top leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party and PML-N, which are set to form the next government after emerging the two largest parties in the parliamentary polls, have said they would use a mix of dialogue and force to tackle militancy in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas.



Mush denies planning exit strategy

Islamabad, February 24
President Pervez Musharraf, facing a serious challenge to his powers in the wake of parliamentary election results, today swiftly denied reports that he was planning an “exit strategy” even as the PPP and the PML (N) continued discussions on the formation of the new government that is likely to assume office next week.

Hours after a leading British newspaper “The Daily Telegraph” reported that the beleaguered President had “already started discussing the exit strategy for himself”, Musharraf, through his spokesman Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi made it clear that he had no such plan.

“I think one should not attach much credence to the report. Nothing of this sort has been discussed in the President’s office,” Qureshi said. — PTI



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