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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

Musharraf, Benazir in back channel talks again

By M Rama Rao - for Asian Tribune

New Delhi, 07 April ( President General Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have resumed their 'back channel' negotiations' in mutual interest. The talk about their contacts gained fresh lease after the government had wound up the special cell of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which has been investigating cases against Benazir and her husband Asif Zardari. "Of course, it (closure of NAB cell) is a part of the deal," the garrulous railway minister Sheikh Rashid was quoted as saying in the Dawn on Friday. "Things are moving in the right direction and the game has entered the semi-final stage," was his way of describing the state of talks between Musharraf's aides and Benazir.

Though ruling PML chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has hotly contested Rashid claim, Stratfor which is often dubbed as the CIA cousin, sees merit in the Rashid speak. It holds the view that Musharraf's 'dire need' to gain control of the jihadists could bring him and Benazir Bhutto 'closer' to an agreement.

The on-going judicial crisis has forced the Pak President to reactivate the back channels which fell silent a couple of months back after almost three years of intense effort to bring Benazir and her People's Party of Pakistan onto Musharraf's side for giving his regime the respectability it badly needs.

One reason for the failure of these talks thus far, according to Stratfor is Musharraf's insistence on his uniform and Benazir's fear that accepting a president in uniform will be a deadly political blow for her democratic credentials.

Now both sides appear willing to compromise. One possibility that is being tossed around is Musharraf turns a civilian President and retains a considerable degree of power presently available to him, while Benazir becomes a Prime Minister with "more authority" than Shaukat Aziz, the present incumbent, enjoys.

At this stage it is not clear whether Gen Musharraf will be willing to give up his job as the army chief. The Texas based global intelligence analysis agency, Startfor subscribes to the view that the General will not want to give up his position as military chief though the spat with judiciary and jihadi resurgence have weakened his claim to hold on the army post.

"Given what is at stake for both sides, a deal under which Gen Musharraf as a civilian president acts as a balancing force between parliament and the military is not out of the question", according to Stratfor, which recalls that Benazir had headed the government in the past even when real power remained with the Army.

There is another urgency for Musharraf to strike a deal with Benazir. It is the likely complications his regime will face if a Democrat leader like Henry Clinton wins the American race for the White House in the coming presidential elections. The Democrats, more so Henry Clinton, will adopt a different approach towards Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

- Asian Tribune -

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