NATIONAL

Benazir praises Musharraf initiative

ISLAMABAD, DEC. 30. In the first formal and direct contact with the former Prime Minister and chairperson of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Ms. Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, today sought her cooperation in meeting the situation arising out of the heightened tension between India and Pakistan.

Gen. Musharraf invited her to attend an all-party meet called here to discuss the situation arising out of tension on the border.

Ms. Bhutto has been in exile for the last three years. The stated position of the Musharraf Government so far has been that she would face arrest if she were to return as she is an accused in several cases.

The ice between PPP and the military regime was broken when the Consul-General of Pakistan in Dubai, Mr. Amanullah Larik, called on Ms. Bhutto in the morning and delivered a message from the Government. It was not clear if a similar initiative has been taken to contact the former Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The message from Gen. Musharraf to Ms. Bhutto contained an invitation to the PPP to ``participate in the gathering of political leaders on December 30 in the national interest''. After she got the message, she nominated Mr. Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the vice-chair of the PPP, to attend the meeting. However, as there was no flight available he was unable to be attend.

Appreciating the initiative of Gen. Musharraf, Ms. Bhutto informed the Consul-General that national reconciliation was important for internal stability of the country.

She gave him a copy of the 12-point agenda for national reconciliation given by the PPP last November to Gen. Musharraf through Gen. Ehtishaam during the last all-party meeting.

The reluctance of Gen. Musharraf to engage top leaders of the two mainstream political parties, the PPP, and Mr. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, has been one of the main grouses of Ms. Bhutto.

Only two days ago, the PPP issued a statement that the best way to avert a war with India was to transfer power to a civilian set-up and hold general elections at the earliest.

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