The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak hawks’ demand stalls coalition drive

Islamabad, Nov. 8 (Reuters): Pakistan’s main pro-military party and the religious Right remained divided during coalition talks today on who should run the country’s first civilian government in three years, but agreed to meet again.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, vice-president of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance of hardline Islamic groups, stuck to its insistence that it should lead the future coalition government, even though it came in third in October elections.

“We can hold talks and we are holding talks, but we have our own candidate for the prime ministership,” he told reporters after meeting the leader of pro-military Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein.

Nearly a month after the election, in which the PML-QA won most seats but fell far short of a majority, Pakistan’s politicians appear no nearer to agreeing on a coalition needed to take the country back to civilian rule.

Earlier this week, efforts by an anti-military alliance led by exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) to agree a coalition with the Islamists also broke down over the MMA’s insistance that conservative Islamic leader Fazal-ur-Rehman should become prime minister.

Attempts to reach an agreement between Bhutto’s party and the PML-QA, which are bitter rivals, have appeared still-born. However, Ahmed insisted there was no political stalemate and blamed the military government for compounding the confusion by delaying the opening of parliament, which was originally scheduled for today, for at least a week. “We ask them to call the parliament and whomsoever becomes prime minister, we will accept him in a democratic way,” he said.

The alliance of Islamic parties, which based its election campaign on fierce criticism of President Pervez Musharraf’s support for the US-led war in Afghanistan and calls for imposition of Islamic law, dramatically increased its seat count in the polls and now holds the balance of power.

The prospect of a hardline Islamist at the helm has alarmed financial markets.There are also fears that having the religious Right in power could undermine the US-led pursuit of al Qaida and Taliban operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But some analysts say this could force the Islamists to take a more conciliatory line and would be preferable to having them in Opposition while ruling the roost in the key tribal borderland where many al Qaida and Taliban fighters are thought to have taken refuge.

Consulate attack trial

Five Islamic militants pleaded not guilty today to killing 12 people in a car bomb attack on the US consulate in Karachi in June.

The five accused were brought before a special anti-terrorism court at Karachi’s Central Jail and charged with murder, attempted murder, terrorism and use of explosives.

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