KARACHI, PAKISTAN, Nov 18, Reuter: Pakistan Army Chief General Mirza Aslam beg has congratulated Benazir Bhutto on Wednesday’s election results and promised power will be transferred peacefully to the new parliament, informed sources said on Friday.
His comments came in a telephone call on Thursday night to the 35 year old opposition leader who has claimed victory after her Pakistan People’s party (PPP) won 45 per cent of the Moslem seats at stake.
The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half its 41 year history and its views will be decisive if Bhutto is to form a government.
Bhutto’s main opponent, Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif, meanwhile flew to Karachi in a bid to put together a coalition government to keep the PPP from power.
Sharif, the only one of the three Islamic democratic alliance (IDA) leaders to win a seat, was planning to open negotiations with the Mohajir National movement, an IDA. Spokesman in Islamabad said.
The movement, representing a large immigrant community won 13 national assembly seats, the third largest block after the PPP’s 92 and the IDA’s 54.
Beg, who became chief of army staff in August on the death in a plane crash of President Mohammad Zia-Ul-Haq spoke first to Bhutto’s mother Nusrat in Larkana and then to Benazir in Karachi, the sources said.
Bhutto, seeking to become the first woman elected to rule a Moslem nation, told Beg she had heard reports of attempts to block a transfer of power, the sources said. But he reassured her would go ahead peacefully.
Senior PPP Leaders contacted for comment would neither confirm nor deny the telephone conversation and no military spokesman was immediately available for comment. Bhutto was asked Acting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to appoint her Prime Minister, but the IDA says it can form a government.
“We’ve been discussing it amongst ourselves and it’s not a total write-off that we can form a government,” IDA spokesman Murtaza Pooya said. It’s still an open question. I wouldn’t lay bets either way,” he said.
But analysts said the alliance faced a much harder task than the PPP. “My guess is that the IDA is being very optimistic,” a western diplomat commented.
The alliance published a list of 10 seats where the independent winners had already pledged their support.
Pooya said the IDA leader in North-West Frontier Province, retired General Fazle Haq, had reported eight members elected in the semi-independent tribal areas along the Afghan border would also join an Anti-PPP coalition.
The Mohajir National movement is making its first foray into national politics. The movement sprang up in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and nearby Hyderabad two years ago had already swept local council elections there,
Representing Moslems who migrated from other parts of British India at partition in 1947, it took 11 of Karachi’s 13 seats and two in Hyderabad.
Militant Mohajirs have been involved in bloody rioting with rival ethnic groups which has taken at least 900 lives in Southern Pakistan in the past two years.
It is led by 38 year old Altaf Hussain, who did not stand for the national assembly himself.
Bhutto, whose father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was ousted as Prime Minister by Zia and executed two years later has said the PPP was already in contact with independents and minor parties to discuss a coalition.
Some analysts speculated the IDA’s public attempts to form a coalition might be intended partly to influence voting in Saturday’s elections for the four provincial assemblies,
The provincial assemblies have considerable financial and local government powers. A widespread belief that the PPP was going, to head the federal government could help its candidates in the provincial elections, they said.
The analysts said the results of the provincial elections could influence some independent federal deputies in deciding whether to support Bhutto or the IDA.
The provincial representatives also join the national assembly and the senate in forming an electoral college which chooses the national president. The current senate (upper house) was elected in 1985 in non-party elections boycotted by the PPP.
Wednesday’s elections, the first fought by parties for 11 years, swept away a large crowd of senior politicians.
Among them were the IDA’s Mohammad Khan Junejo, a former Prime Minister, and alliance President Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a disillusioned former Bhutto aide.
Article extracted from this publication >> November 25, 1988