Bhutto ready for Sharif alliance

Larkana, November 26:

Pakistan’s main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said today that she was ready to form an alliance with Nawaz Sharif as she filed her papers to contest upcoming general elections.

It was the second time in two days Bhutto had lodged nomination papers for the January 8 vote, as under Pakistan law candidates can stand for more than one seat.

“We are ready to forge an alliance with all moderate political parties,” she told reporters in Larkana, her family’s ancestral home deep in rural southern Pakistan.

“We welcome Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan. It will strengthen the democratic and political culture.” Sharif, like Bhutto a two-time former premier, returned yesterday to a hero’s welcome from his supporters in Lahore, eastern Pakistan, after seven years in exile.

Bhutto flew home last month after eight years abro-ad, and the two are working on a joint strategy against President Musharraf following imposition of emergency.

That may include boycotting the elections but a final decision on that will not be taken until after the close of today’s deadline for registration.

“We are concerned that elections will be rigged but we don’t want to leave the field empty,” she explained.

Bhutto said an alliance of moderate parties was also being pushed by the United States, for which Pakistan is a crucial ally in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

“In the past the United States would support dictatorships but now it is supporting democratic forces, which is a sign of encouragement for all the democracy-loving people,” she added.

Bhutto filed papers yesterday for a women-only seat in Karachi, but will also stand for her Larkana constituency.

Under Pakistani law, a candidate can be elected in more than one place but can still only represent one seat, triggering a by-election in the seat they renounce.