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Musharraf-baiters, hawks strike coalition deal

Islamabad, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Anti-military parties said today they had agreed to go into coalition with right-wing Muslims to form Pakistan’s first civilian government in three years.

Since elections last month, supporters and opponents of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf have wooed a group of conservative Muslim lawmakers, the Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) with 59 seats, to win a majority in the 342-seat Parliament.

Nawabzada Nasrullah, the head of the anti-military Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), said his group would back MMA head Maulana Fazlur Rehman as Prime Minister. “We have reached an agreement with the MMA to form the government,” Nasrullah said.

“We are in full agreement, including the ARD’s support for Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s election as Prime Minister. A formal announcement will be made any time soon.”

The ARD includes the Pakistan People’s Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League faction of another ex-premier, Nawaz Sharif.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Nasrullah had been authorised to negotiate a coalition. “If the Nawabzada says the ARD has reached an agreement with the MMA, that is the way it is,” he said. “Nasrullah was asked to mediate with all the parties involved so that some consensus could be reached.”

Tehmina Daultana, vice-president of Sharif’s party, said the former Prime Minister approved Rehman’s bid for the premiership. “All the members of the ARD and indeed the MMA are united on one simple platform: we are all democratic forces and we would all like to see democracy restored,” she said.

Rehman said yesterday the MMA would be in a position to form a coalition with a simple majority with the main ARD parties and some independents. “We are very positive,” he said. “According to our latest count, we already have 174 seats.”

However, another senior MMA official, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, sowed confusion by holding talks with the pro-military Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) yesterday, and later saying the two parties were seeking “middle ground”.

PML-QA power broker Chaudry Shujaat Hussain appeared in a sombre mood after the meeting, but said: “We shall be able to come to a consensus soon.”

The PML-QA won the most seats in the election on October 10, but its 103 fell well short of the 172 needed for a majority. It has also tried to woo the MMA, which unexpectedly emerged as a potential coalition maker after riding a wave of anti-Western feeling among voters over the US-led war in Afghanistan. Talks between the PML-QA and the MMA stalled over the MMA’s insistence that Rehman should lead any future government.

Yesterday, Musharraf summoned the new National Assembly to meet next Friday and interior minister Moinuddin Haider told reporters he was hopeful power would be transferred to an elected prime Minister by November 14.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, has been strongly criticised for amending the Constitution before the election to ensure a major role for the military in overseeing the work of a future government and giving himself the power to dismiss Parliament if it becomes unruly.

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