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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 12:08 GMT
Pakistan coalition hopes after talks
Leaders of the Muttahida Mujlis-e-Amal (MMA), meet to discuss the formation of the government.
Islamic alliance members also hold a key role in a new government

Senior Pakistani officials have held a secret midnight meeting with Asif Zardari, the jailed husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Officials refused to comment on this surprise, late-night development - but members of Ms Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) say this could be the first clear step towards the formation of the future coalition in the country.

Asif Zardari
Asif Zardari could help gain the support of Ms Bhutto
The move initially created panic in the party as some senior party members thought Mr Zardari was being taken away for interrogation in connection with yet another case.

Mr Zardari has been in prison for the last six years and is faced with half a dozen cases, ranging from conspiracy to murder to financial corruption.

But soon, many members of the party began to realise he was involved in some kind of negotiations.

Senior figures

Mr Zardari, who is presently in a government hospital awaiting trial, was taken away at around midnight by some security officials to an undisclosed location.

He was brought back to his hospital ward two hours later and eyewitnesses say one of the persons accompanying him was a senior party leader, Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

So far, both Mr Fahim and senior government officials have remained tight lipped about this late night development.

But it has already sparked speculation in Islamabad about a possible deal between Ms Bhutto and the military-run government on the future political set-up.

Last week, Amin Fahim had a separate meeting with Mr Zardari in a court house in Rawalpindi and on Sunday, he met President Musharraf at a hill resort outside Islamabad.

Direct contact

Although President Musharraf has tried to play down the significance of his meeting with Mr Fahim at a public place, analysts say the latest development indicates that the government has decided to bury the hatchet and to open direct contact with Ms Bhutto's jailed spouse.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim
Fahim: Met President Musharraf
In the post-election scenario, where none of the parties has been able to get a simple majority in the National Assembly, the PPP's role has become crucial, not just in the formation of a coalition government but, more importantly, to get the approval of President Musharraf's constitutional package from the elected parliament.

However, without Ms Bhutto's approval, perhaps through Mr Zardari, the PPP's local leadership is not in a position to offer any concessions to the government.

It is being said that in case of a deal between the military-run government and Ms Bhutto, the next coalition government could be headed by a PPP nominee, with a strong possibility that Mr Zardari may be out on bail after six years of imprisonment

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

29 Oct 02 | South Asia
25 Oct 02 | South Asia
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09 Oct 02 | South Asia
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