|Wednesday, 28 May 2003|
Islamists asked to give Musharraf two more years in army
ISLAMABAD, Tuesday (AFP) Pakistan's government has asked Islamist opposition parties to give President Pervez Musharraf two years to relinquish leadership of the army, a senior Islamic party MP said.
The suggestion, revealed by the parliamentary leader of the religious right alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, comes as pressure mounts on General Musharraf to abandon his dual posts.
"A heavyweight government figure last week suggested to the MMA leadership that it should consider giving two years to Musharraf to shed his military uniform," Ahmed told AFP.
Musharraf's dual role as army chief and unelected president are under fire from the MMA and fellow opposition parties Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
Demands that he quit the military and submit to a standard presidential election have brought the seven-month-old parliament - the first since Musharraf began his three-year military rule - to a standstill.
The suggestion of a two-year deadline came at a meeting between Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that was also attended by Ahmed and ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) party president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
The fundamentalist JUI is a leading element in the MMA's six-party religious right alliance.
The Islamists had already offered to give Musharraf until August 14, when Pakistan celebrates the 56th anniversary of its creation, to quit the military. They have also pledged to back him in a presidential poll.
Responding to the government request MMA leaders suggested he should step down from the presidency if he wants to remain the army chief for two more years.
"The MMA told government leaders that Musharraf can put a man of his choice into the presidency if he does not want to shed his military uniform," Ahmed said, adding the MMA would back the pro-Musharraf PML-Q's Hussain as president.
The PPP and PML-N, taking a tougher line, are demanding he quit both posts immediately.
At an all-party conference convened by a local newspaper group the MMA renewed threats that it would mobilise millions of supporters should Musharraf maintain his two posts.
"If Musharraf remained adamant on holding two offices then there will be a national crisis as MMA will move a million people on roads against him," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed who leads a key MMA component, Jamaat-i-Islami.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PPP told the conference: "We are flexible but we cannot accept that one persons holds two offices simultaneously."
"Pakistan's army has become an underground political party that itself undermines the dignity of armed forces which is not acceptable to us," PML-N leader, Javed Hashmi, said.
Ruling party ally Ejaz ul-Haq advised the opposition not to press the issue as Musharraf himself had said he would give up as army chief "at an appropriate time."
The two-year deadline offer follows 18 days of talks by an 11-member joint government-opposition committee to find a compromise on opposition demands on Musharraf's position plus powers he has given the presidency and military.
The talks concluded last week without a breakthrough.
Produced by Lake House