New Delhi/Islamabad, Sept. 12: Barring last-minute hitches, President Pervez Musharraf is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia tomorrow to personally thank the royal family for its help in keeping Nawaz Sharif out of Pakistan.
Musharraf’s sudden decision to fly to Riyadh to meet King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud leaked on a day US deputy secretary of state John Negroponte arrived in Islamabad.
Musharraf is also believed to be planning to stop over in Dubai on his way to Riyadh or on the return journey home to try and finalise a political deal with Benazir Bhutto.
“Musharraf is now convinced that only a power-sharing deal with Bhutto, who is facing a series of corruption cases in Pakistan, can ensure his re-election,” journalist Salim Bokhari said.
Presidential spokesperson Rashid Qureshi denied the President’s travel plan. “These reports are incorrect. He (Musharraf) has a full day of engagements in Islamabad on Thursday,” Qureshi told The Telegraph in Islamabad.
But sources said the visit could still take place on the first day of Ramazan, likely on Friday.
By visiting the Saudi king at such a delicate moment, Musharraf is seeking to signal that Pakistan’s old and trusted ally is fully behind his regime. The Pakistan cabinet also tried to shore up Musharraf’s authority by unanimously endorsing the need for his re-election in uniform by the present Assemblies.
If he changes his travel plans overnight, it will be because of signs of disquiet in Pakistan, where there is considerable disenchantment with the kingdom now.
The resentment manifested itself in an unparalleled boycott by the entire Pakistan Opposition of the national day reception hosted by the Saudi envoy in Islamabad yesterday.
All Opposition parties used to attend Saudi events in the past with great enthusiasm because of the love and respect the king, being the custodian of Islam’s holiest of holy places, enjoyed in Pakistan.
However, Sharif’s unceremonious deportation, with the active intervention of the Saudi establishment, has made the kingdom less popular. “There is a severe reaction throughout Pakistan against Saudi Arabia for not showing respect to Pakistan ’s sovereignty, its law and Constitution,” an Opposition leader said.
Representatives of Benazir’s party, keen not to be tagged with the Musharraf camp, too, skipped the reception.