Nawaz’s Return Generates Heated Debate in US Media
By Anwar Iqbal

Washington, DC: As former prime minister Nawaz Sharif performed his last Umrah on Saturday before heading home, diplomatic sources in Washington say that the initiative for his return came from the Saudis.
Former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif endorsed such speculations in an interview he gave to VOA radio, saying that “the Saudis did not want to get further involved in Pakistan’s domestic politics” and that’s why they are allowing his brother to return.
Another PML (N) leader, Javed Hashmi, told the American radio that President Pervez Musharraf tried to convince the Saudi government to prevent Mr. Sharif from returning home, but the Saudis refused to do so. He said that since the Saudis were no more willing to keep Mr. Sharif, the government did not have the option of sending him back to the kingdom as it did on September 10.
“They can arrest him but that too will not be easy,” Mr. Hashmi said. “Gen Musharraf has weakened considerably since September 10. Arresting Mr. Sharif will create new problems for him.”
What role did the Americans play in arranging Mr. Sharif’s return? A State Department official, when asked for comments, said: “We do not back candidates or parties, but we do encourage moderate political elements in Pakistan to get together to fight terrorism.”
But diplomatic sources say that while the US administration made no direct contact with Mr. Sharif, it did negotiate with them indirectly, using Saudi officials as intermediaries.
A Washington-based South Asian website called Wichar, which is run by prominent Indian and Pakistani journalists, thinks otherwise. Quoting diplomatic sources, the site claimed that while in Saudi Arabia earlier this week, President Musharraf held a secret meeting with Mr. Sharif and the US ambassador in the kingdom also participated in the meeting.
All three parties — the Pakistani and US governments and Mr. Sharif — however, insist that there has been no such meeting.
The New York Times welcomes Mr. Sharif’s expected return as a positive development and urges the Bush administration to encourage Benazir Bhutto to work with Mr. Sharif to build a broad “civilian democratic front” in Pakistan.
“Instead of urging Benazir Bhutto to expand her credibility on implausible power-sharing deals, Washington should be encouraging her to work with her long-time political rival, Nawaz Sharif, and build a broad civilian democratic front,” the newspaper said.
Some media reports also speculated that the possibility that PPP may emerge as a strong political force in the forthcoming elections, if not challenged, persuaded the government to allow Mr. Sharif to return home.
They claimed that the reception Ms Bhutto received when she returned home surprised the government. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, they said, had calculated that during nine years of absence Ms Bhutto’s political base had shriveled, but they were proven wrong.
This, according to these reports, persuaded the government to review its policies and allow Mr. Sharif to return because they did not want to give the PPP a free hand.
PML (N)’s participation in the forthcoming elections, the reports said, would ensure that no party got an overwhelming majority in the next parliament. A hung parliament, they argued, would give the government more room to maneuver and the government needed this space because it would want the new parliament to give indemnity to Gen Musharraf’s Nov 3 PCO. Without indemnity the PCO would be seen as an act of treason, the reports said.
The media argued that while Mr. Sharif might deny making any deal with the government, he could not return without making some prior ‘arrangement’ with Islamabad.
They noted that since her return, Ms Bhutto had dropped all but one of her demands: “Gen Musharraf must take off his uniform,” a demand the general has already promised to fulfill.
Mr. Sharif, they said, might also drop most of his demands and accept a working arrangement with the government, if they have already not done so.
Some reports suggested that Gen Musharraf might not want to retire from the army before the elections and would wait for a parliamentary indemnity before quitting his power base. (Courtesy Dawn)

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