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US works on Pak power formula

Washington, Sept. 11: American mediators trying to broker a solution to the political crisis in Pakistan have proposed that General Pervez Musharraf should temporarily step down as President and appoint a civilian successor who will then extend his term as chief of army staff, according to sources in Dubai who are familiar with the US formula.

US state department spokesperson Sean McCormack has, however, completely denied any American role in the ongoing political drama in Islamabad and said “it is a matter for the Pakistanis to resolve”.

He added that “we are not party to that” agreement between Nawaz Sharif, his brother and the Saudi government and “it is up to the parties involved to interpret that agreement as they will”.

Mansoor Ijaz, a millionaire Pakistani-American businessman, who is often used by Washington in wheeling and dealing in the politics of Islamic countries, has proposed on record that Jehangir Karamat, the former chief of army staff and former ambassador to the US, should be the interim President after Musharraf steps down.

A long-time contributor to the coffers of the Democratic Party, Ijaz is now a darling of the Republicans because of his claim that he had persuaded Sudan to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US, but the Clinton administration showed little interest.

Another name that would be acceptable to the Americans is that of defence minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal, with whom Washington has been dealing and is comfortable.

Musharraf’s spokesperson and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) officials have formally ruled out Iqbal, but the Americans believe he holds the key to change in Islamabad.

Despite the tactical murmurs of disapproval in Islamabad, they believe Iqbal will be eventually acceptable to Benazir Bhutto because he is a founding member of the PPP along with her late father.

Names are also circulating in Dubai for a caretaker Prime Minister. Musharraf’s favourite, if a change of government becomes inevitable, is said to be Ishrat Hussein, a former World Bank official who was governor of Pakistan’s Central Bank until two years ago.

Bhutto’s choice as interim Prime Minister is said to be former defence minister and PPP leader Aftab Shaban Mirani. She cannot head a Pakistani government until several laws enacted by Musharraf to deny her — and Nawaz Sharif — a role in politics are amended.

Dubai became another centre of intrigue in Pakistani politics in the run-up to the current crisis.

Despite Bhutto’s statement today in an interview to an Indian TV channel that the US has nothing to do with a proposed deal between her and Musharraf, sources in her household said the US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Richard Boucher, visited her in Dubai last week.

Boucher, who was to arrive in Islamabad only today according to a pre-fixed programme, was in Islamabad too on an unscheduled trip. The state department has been silent about his earlier travels.

Musharraf views the next 26 days as crucial to his survival.

General Ehsan-ul-Haq, now chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who is next in line for succession as army chief, will retire on October 7.

He is acceptable to the US and if Musharraf stubbornly decides to stay on as President, but sheds his army uniform, there may be pressure to give Ehsan-ul-Haq an extension in service and make him army chief. Ehsan-ul-Haq is also said to be acceptable to Bhutto.

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