Pakistan's ruling Pakistan People's Party has begun secret negotiations with Pervez Musharraf's party to isolate its rival Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and to facilitate the former military ruler's possible return to the country, a media report said on Monday.
The PPP and Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League have set up a "covert communication channel" to coordinate their political activities, ostensibly directed against the PML-N, The Express Tribune quoted its sources as saying.
A PPP delegation met for two hours with Chaudhry Sarfraz Anjum Kahlon, a top adviser of Musharraf, at his residence in Cambridge in Britain on September 7 to discuss a "new political alignment" that could pave the way for the former President's return to Pakistan from self-exile.
PPP and APML have agreed to not criticise each other in public and to focus on attacking their common rival, PML-N. They also agreed to maintain a secret channel to evolve a strategy to defeat the PML-N in its political bastion of Punjab in the next general election. Musharraf has been living outside Pakistan since early 2009. He stepped down as President in 2008 to avoid impeachment. He has announced that he intends to return to Pakistan on March 23 to lead the APML in the 2013 election.
The PPP delegation, sanctioned by party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, included three lawmakers from Gujranwala, Sargodha and Sahiwal, sources said. Other members of the delegation included a federal minister and three confidantes of Zardari, the report said.
Zardari believes Musharraf's homecoming will benefit the PPP, as it will put the PML-N under more pressure, it said. Sources said the powerful military establishment was taken on board before the PPP's overture to Musharraf. The PPP negotiators told Musharraf's adviser Kahlon that they had been mandated by Zardari to initiate a secret dialogue with the APML and discuss the possibility of Musharraf's return to Pakistan.
The two sides agreed to meet again at a mutually convenient date. After the meeting in Cambridge, the PPP team met Zardari, who was in London for a medical check-up, and briefed him about the parleys. Kahlon, a former lord mayor of Saffron Walden and a family friend of Musharraf, has been tasked by the APML chief to visit Pakistan to follow up on his talks with the PPP leadership.
In the next meeting between the two parties, the PPP is expected to tell the APML how to save Musharraf from the courts after his homecoming, the sources said. The two parties will also try to organise a meeting between Musharraf and Zardari.
Sources said the PPP chose to contact Kahlon instead of other APML leaders because he was a close ally of the PPP during Gen Zia-ul-Haq's regime and was incarcerated three times. In the 1980s, he moved to Britain. APML spokesman Chaudhry Fawad Hussain neither confirmed nor denied the talks with the PPP. He said his party supported the PPP for its liberal, moderate and progressive policies. However, the PPP rejected reports of talks with the APML as "baseless".
PPP spokesman Qamar Zaman Kaira said his party's policy was to remain at a distance from Musharraf. He said the people of Pakistan had "removed Musharraf's chapter from the country's politics". The PPP will not stop Musharraf from returning to Pakistan but he will have to face the courts on his return, Kaira said.