Benazir and Zardari will meet Nawaz
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: Former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are expected to meet in Jeddah later this week to discuss the political situation back home and review the cooperation of their parties.
ARD sources told Daily Times that Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari had booked Emirates Airline tickets to Saudi Arabia for Wednesday. They will perform umra and also take the chance to visit Nawaz Sharif and condole the death of his father Mian Sharif, the sources said.
Raja Pervez Ashraf, the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) secretary general, confirmed that Bhutto and Zardari would visit Saudi Arabia in the next few days. Sharif was exiled to Saudi Arabia after General Pervez Musharraf took power in October 1999. Bhutto has been living in self-exile since 1998.
“It will be the first meeting between the two former prime ministers during their time in exile,” said Siddiqul Farooq, the PML-N information secretary.
Bhutto, the PPP chairperson, and Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), were once ardent political rivals. However, they were united by a common foe – Musharraf - and came together at the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD).
Bhutto has summoned Amin Fahim, the PPPP president, to Dubai for consultations.
Political analysts believe the two former prime ministers have a chance to remove misunderstandings which are threatening the existence of the ARD. Recent press reports say the opposition PPP is on the verge of a deal with the government, reports PPP leaders have always denied.
The PML-N is reportedly ready to form an alliance with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal without the PPP. PML-N leaders also deny these reports.
Because of the absence of Fahim, who is also the ARD chairman, an important meeting of the alliance has been postponed. The meeting scheduled for February 8 was to discuss the ARD’s expected cooperation with the MMA in protests against Gen Musharraf’s decision to remain army chief and president.
Sources said the ARD chairman proposed February 15 for the meeting, but other ARD leaders said setting a date at this point would be premature because Fahim could well be out of Pakistan past that date.
The ARD was to discuss under what terms it would be ready to join the MMA’s anti-Musharraf campaign. The MMA wants to include the omission of the religion column from the new passports and blasphemy and Hudood laws in their campaign, but the ARD, particularly the PPP, differs widely with the religious alliance on these issues and is believed to prefer protest limited to the president’s uniform.