WASHINGTON DC, Nov 22, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf's special envoy Tariq Aziz laying a wreath at the tomb of Mian Sharif in Raiwind

Musharraf-Nawaz Sharif Have First Telephonic Conversation After '99 Coup

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON, November 22: Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf had a long telephonic conversation with exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Medina on November 5, Sharif’s son, Hasan Nawaz confirmed on Sunday, Nov 21.

Talking to me from his London residence, Hasan Nawaz said General Musharraf first called Shahbaz Sharif and then talked to Nawaz Sharif, who was in Medina, and offered his condolences on the death of Mian Mohammed Sharif.

It was the first time that General Musharraf spoke directly to the politician whom he deposed in a coup in October 1999 and then sent him into exile to Saudi Arabia one year later.

General Musharraf had earlier sent his close friend and confidant, National Security Council Secretary Tariq Aziz, as his special envoy to Raiwind to lay a wreath on Mian Sharif’s grave on his behalf. Punjab Chief Minister Choudhry Pervaiz Ilahi had also accompanied Tariq Aziz to Raiwind.

Hasan Nawaz would not give any details of the conversation between General Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif but he said the telephone call “was now an open secret and everybody is talking about it.”

Sources close to the Sharif family however told the South Asia Tribune General Musharraf “offered his apologies to Nawaz Sharif for what he described as a big mess created by the Pakistani Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in connection with allowing Nawaz and Shahbaz brothers to attend their father’s funeral in Pakistan.”

“General Musharraf explained that the Pakistan Ambassador in Saudi Arabia had not been given any mandate by him or the government to put conditions on the return of the Sharif family with Mian Sharif’s body.’ one source said.

General Musharraf was quoted to have said that he was not very happy with how this matter had been handled and told the exiled Prime Minister if he had come with the body for funeral, “I would myself come to Raiwind to offer my condolences, as I know what it means to lose one’s father.”

The family sources said Mian Nawaz Sharif reminded General Musharraf that when his father had died, Sharif had sent the General a letter of condolence from the Attock Jail.

“When Musharraf heard that, he went silent for at least 10 second and did not know how to respond. He then said he was not happy in the manner in which the whole matter had been handled by the Ambassador.”

When the elder Sharif had died, it was widely reported that the Pakistan government had asked the Sharif family to approach the Saudi authorities so that they could request the Pakistani government for allowing the family to visit Pakistan to take part in the last rites of Mian Sharif.

The Charge d' Affaires at Pakistan Embassy in Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Mirza, had proposed to Nawaz Sharif to approach the Royal Saudi family with a request that they should seek a formal permission from Pakistan for the purpose. Mirza called on Nawaz Sharif in the afternoon and condoled the death of Mian Sharif on behalf of President Musharraf.

It was then reported by Daily The News that Government was ready to allow the family members, including Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, to take part in the funeral. However, the Pakistan government wants the Royal Saudi family to guarantee that the Sharif family, especially Nawaz and Shahbaz, would return to Saudi Arabia after performing the rites.

But the Pakistani diplomat in Jeddah conveyed the message that all other members of the family, minus Nawaz and Shahbaz and Kulsoom Nawaz, could accompany the body. This was unacceptable to the family as the elders had to be present at the funeral.

Talking to The News, Brig (retd) Javed Iqbal Malik, who lives in Jeddah with Nawaz Sharif and acts as his confidant, had at the time expressed shock over the conditions being laid down by the Pakistan government at a mournful occasion when the bereaved Sharif family was already suffering from a tremendous sense of loss due to Mian Sharif’s demise. He had said the Sharifs, being Pakistani nationals, had every right to come home for the last rites of Mian Sharif.

The Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Ilahi had then said the government had not received any request from Sharif family to return with the body.

Nawaz family sources said all this was explained by General Musharraf to Nawaz Sharif in his telephonic conversation "as a big mess created by the Pakistani diplomat who had not been mandated to put these conditions."

Political analysts say the complete secrecy about the Musharraf-Nawaz conversation by both the sides meant that at least they had reached some understanding on how to keep talking and keep their channels open.

They said Musharraf would not have liked the conversation to become public as it would create a sense of great uncertainty in the crowd of PML-N defectors who have aligned themselves with General Musharraf under the PML-Q banner.

“If the PML-Q members, now in the government realize that Musharraf had opened his direct channels with Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, they would start shaking in their pants as it would mean an end to their utility for the General,” one analyst said.

On the other hand, the Nawaz camp did not want the conversation to become public because they wanted the channels to remain open so that when enough confidence was restored they could start discussing more substantial political matters.

Analysts said General Musharraf was getting desperate to open these channels not only with the Nawaz camp but with Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari as well as he was coming under severe pressure from the religious extremists on the one hand and the ARD on the other, specially on his uniform issue.

“If Musharraf can reach some broad understanding with these mainstream political parties, he would then feel confident enough to take off his uniform and stay as a powerful president until 2007,” analysts said.

Another factor which has increased the pressure on General Musharraf is the change of leadership at the US State Department where his friend "General" Colin Powell has left and a more hawkish "civilian" Condoleezza Rice is set to become the new Secretary of State.

Rice will certainly use the stick on issues like the investigation into the Dr AQ Khan nuclear sales and the hunt for Al Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden and others.

Musharraf thus feels that he has to broaden his political support base at home to face the increasing pressure from the US and opening of new channels between Musharraf and the Sharif family is certainly a step in that direction.

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