Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Pakistani minister says Bhutto deal still a possibility


Pakistan's government is still interested in seeking a power-sharing deal with former prime minister and key opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, an official said yesterday, after Bhutto said months of talks with the government were at a standstill.

Bhutto said on Saturday in London, where she lives in exile, that the talks -- aimed at gaining her support for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's bid to win a new five-year term -- had failed to reach an agreement.

She said she planned to return to Pakistan regardless.

Senator Tariq Azim, deputy information minister, said yesterday that some of Bhutto's recent comments hurt the negotiations, but that the government would continue talks with her.

"Obviously, the deadlines and demands ... were the things that did not help matters," Azim said, referring to Bhutto's pressing Musharraf to declare when he will step down as chief of the army.

"The talks will still go on, but I think she has to understand that there are many other factors -- that she is not the only factor who will determine the final arrangements," Azim said.

Azim said any agreement between Bhutto and the government should also have backing from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which staunchly supports Musharraf.

Musharraf and his emissaries have been negotiating with Bhutto to get her party's backing for the army general, as he prepares to seek another presidential term in a vote by lawmakers likely this month or next month.

In return, Bhutto wants the government to drop corruption charges against her and to support a constitutional amendment that would allow her to serve a third term as prime minister.

Bhutto attributed the standstill in the talks to some ruling party members' opposition to working with her Pakistan People's Party. She also accused elements of the ruling party of supporting Taliban militants, but did not directly criticize Musharraf and appeared to keep the door open to further talks.

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