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Little option but to resume talks

Islamabad, Sept. 2 (Agencies): Power-sharing talks between Pakistan’s embattled President Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have stalled but political compulsions are likely to push both back to the table, analysts said.

Musharraf and self-exiled Prime Minister Bhutto have been sounding each other out for years but with Musharraf’s terms as both President and army chief due to end soon, they have intensified efforts to reach an agreement.

But Bhutto yesterday said in London the talks had stalled and she planned to return to Pakistan soon even without an deal. She will announce the details on September 14.

Senator Tariq Azim, deputy information minister, said today that some of Bhutto’s recent comments hurt the months-long negotiations, but that the government would continue talks with the two-time Prime Minister.

“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 powerful 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.

“The success of the talks depends on their wish-list,” information minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said, referring to Bhutto’s demands.

Any agreement would likely see Musharraf stepping down as army chief before he stands for another term between mid-September and mid-October, while clearing the way for Bhutto, who still faces graft charges, to return to politics and take part in general elections due at the end of the year.

The two are natural allies, both opposed to Islamist militancy and in favour of free-market reforms.

But with Musharraf’s popularity plummeting, legal challenges to his rule mounting and former exiled Prime Ministers Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif preparing to return home, Pakistan is facing the risk of turmoil.

While some analysts said the mistrust between Musharraf and Bhutto was too deep for them ever to reach a broad pact, others said they needed each other.

“Both will try to the last, I do not think it’s over,” political commentator Nasim Zehra said today.

“It’s a political compulsion for both of them given their objectives — for one to stay in power and for the other to come back very actively in the political sphere.”

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