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Musharraf concedes demands?

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD Sept. 6. The Pakistan Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, can breathe easy for at least a while now as the ruling combine today succeeded in clinching a deal with the alliance of religious parties on continuation of the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, as Army chief.

It is a fragile pact as things stand as several times in the past Gen. Musharraf himself had conceded the point on separation of offices of President and Army chief but the whole dispute was on the timeframe. It was not clear whether at today's parleys in Lahore there is an understanding on the cut-off date by which Gen. Musharraf is ready to give up his uniform.

At least one leader of the MMA has gone on record after the accord that the alliance is not ready to allow Gen. Musharraf to continue as Army chief beyond 2004.

Gen. Musharraf has declared several times in the past that he would quit as Army chief but has been insisting that the timing should be left to his judgment.

Today's pact is bound to disappoint political pundits within and outside Pakistan who have been counselling Gen. Musharraf and the Jamali regime to go for a deal with the mainstream political parties rather than the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) given its controversial views on several subjects.

The understanding brokered by the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) chief, Shujat Hussain also covered some of the controversial amendments made by Gen. Musharraf to the Constitution.

Interestingly it was not the top rung of the MMA who took part in the talks but the number two of both the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamaat-e-Ulema (Fazlur).

If everything goes according to script and the agreement is firmed up, the Government is expected to introduce a Constitution amendment bill in Parliament incorporating the features of the pact.

As per the pact the electoral college for President is to ratify election of Gen. Musharraf as the president. Gen. Musharraf was deemed to have been elected as President through controversial referendum in April last year.

A joint declaration issued at the end of the talks said that the consultative committee on constitutional matters has made a positive development on 58(2)B (which empowers President to dismiss Government and Assemblies), separation of the office of the President and Chief of the Army Staff, his discretionary powers and retirement of Judges of the superior judiciary.

The proposed constitutional package would be presented in Parliament soon. "The proposed package would help overcome constitutional crisis", the document read.

Both the sides termed the outcome of the dialogue as a stride towards the resolution of the problem. The parties also agreed that the meeting of the heads of the parliamentary parties would be convened soon.

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