Musharraf rules out return of exiled former leaders before year-end
PAKISTAN: President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he would not
allow former premiers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif - his two main
political rivals - to return to Pakistan to take part in upcoming
Musharraf was asked during an interview with the private Aaj
television channel about the aspiration of Bhutto and Sharif to return
from exile to lead their parties in parliamentary elections, due at the
end of the year.
â€śNo, they will not be returning before elections,â€ť Musharraf said in
an excerpt shown before the screening of the full interview late Friday.
The announcement seems likely to deepen Pakistanâ€™s political crisis,
in which the military leader faces accusations of authoritarianism as
well as a growing challenge from Islamic extremists.
Musharraf has said he will ask lawmakers in the outgoing parliament
to elect him to another five-year term as president. He has also
resisted calls to give up his post as army chief.
Opposition parties were expected to challenge that stance before the
Supreme Court, and have cried foul over Musharrafâ€™s decision in March to
suspend the courtâ€™s top judge for alleged misconduct.
There had been speculation that Musharraf would team up with Bhutto
under an arrangement that would see her return to the country, in return
for her Pakistan Peoples Partyâ€™s support for his presidency.
But deadly violence between government and opposition supporters in
Karachi last weekend, and now Musharrafâ€™s unequivocal rejection of
Bhuttoâ€™s return, appear to have killed off the chance of a pact with her
party, which espouses a similarly moderate, pro-Western course.
Musharraf banished Sharif to Saudi Arabia for 10 years after seizing
power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Bhutto left the country months
earlier to avoid arrest in corruption cases registered against her by
Musharraf has dismissed both of them as corrupt and incompetent, but
had recently appeared more conciliatory, and officials recently scaled
back corruption investigations against her.