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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2551

Big two sign 'Democracy charter' for Pakistan

By Iqbal Hussain Khan Yousafzai – Reporting from Islamabad

Islamabad, 16 May, (Asiantribune.com): Former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have signed a "charter for democracy" ahead of elections due in 2007.

Both say they will return to the country to take part in the campaign and to work for an end to the rule military president General Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Sharif is in exile after being deposed in 1999. Ms Bhutto could face criminal proceedings on her return.

The two ex-premiers signed the charter in a ceremony in London. It incorporates a range of measures, some constitutional, for the future of Pakistan.

In February they signed a similar agreement in the Saudi city of Jeddah.
Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Mr Sharif's Muslim League netted over 10 million votes between them in elections in 2002.

Their parties were severely damaged by the defection of deputies to a party loyal to President Musharraf after his bloodless 1999 coup.

Ms Bhutto brushed aside the well-known past antagonisms between the two. "It's true that there were major differences between the two parties in the past. "But we have both been victims of military dictatorship and so we have an understanding of the larger picture."

If Mr Sharif returns to Pakistan without the consent of the government, he would be in breach of the agreement he reached with President Musharraf after the coup to live in exile. Ms Bhutto, accused of corruption, would face arrest the moment she set foot on Pakistani soil.

The charter commits the two parties to struggle against dictatorship and on coming to power do away with the ‘distortions’ made in the Constitution after the overthrow of the PML-N government.

Disbandment of the National Security Council has also been promised by the charter.

Some of the provisions in the original drafts of the two parties have been dropped. Provisions that former prime ministers be given privileges like those made available to former presidents have also been excluded from the document.

The two sides have also pledged not to approach the army to come to power.

After putting their signatures on the charter, Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif exchanged the pens with which they had finalized the agreement.

Mr Sharif rejected reports that he could strike a deal with the government, saying it was a calculated move to weaken the opposition.

The two former premiers reiterated that free and fair elections were not possible under the supervision of Gen Pervez Musharraf and that both the exiled leaders would return to the country together before the election. However, they did not say that they would return by the same flight.

Asked if the two parties had discussed any schedule for a movement against the government, Makhdoom Amin Fahim said the restoration of democracy was the real issue at present.

He said the possibility of a PPP-PML-N electoral alliance also did not come under discussion.

PPP leaders Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Mian Raza Rabbani, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, Khurshid Shah, Wajid Shamsul Hasan and PML-N leaders Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Ahsan Iqbal, Syed Ghous Ali Shah, Tehmina Daultana and Khwaja Asif were also present at the meeting.

The previous meeting on the subject was held on April 24 at the residence of Mr Sharif.

The composition of the two delegations showed that both the parties were quite serious Benazir, Nawaz sign Charter of Democracy about finalising the charter which, according to a PML-N leader, was the most important document after the 1973 Constitution.

- Asian Tribune -

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