In return these reports have been vociferously contradicted by no less a person than Musharraf himself.
President General Pervez Musharraf has once again, and in authoritative and categorical terms, said that exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will not be allowed to return to Pakistan before the general elections. His declaration before senior PML-Q leaders in Islamabad flies directly in the face of national and international demands that all political parties and leaders be provided a level playing field.
As Ziauddin Sardar mentioned in the New Statesman yesterday:
Musharraf's plans for the immediate future have two components. First, now that Bhutto has returned, he is determined to hold elections before mid-January. They will be "managed", just as he managed the 2002 elections, by "seat adjustment" - this time to the advantage of her party. He expects Bhutto to deliver her "blind" followers from Sind and Punjab, largely poor peasants at the mercy of feudal landlords. The intelligence agencies and the army will do the rest and ensure the desired results.
An early return by Nawaz Sharif will obviously lead to political turmoil in Punjab and put Musharraf’s plans for an engineered election favouring PML(Q) in serious jeopardy.
After Nawaz Sharif’s forced departure from Islamabad airport, few people expected him be out of Saudi clutches until after the elections. But there appears to be a serious change of heart in Riyadh.
As Newsweek reported two days ago:
It was the Saudis who took in Nawaz Sharif and his family when the Pakistani prime minister was deposed by
According to highly placed Pakistani sources, earlier this month Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah called on Musharraf to allow Sharif back into Pakistan. A source, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said that the king had written to the Pakistani president urging him to permit Sharif's repatriation because of a ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court and in deference to "the wishes of the Pakistani people." NEWSWEEK's source said that Musharraf's response was to insist that Sharif stayed in Saudi Arabia but that his wife, Kulsoom, could return sooner.
Asked to comment, Tariq Azim Khan, Pakistan's state minister for information, told NEWSWEEK that Sharif would not be back despite foreign pressure--including from the European Union. "[Sharif] is not a political exile," says Khan, "he signed an agreement and is in Saudi Arabia on that basis." Khan said he had no knowledge of any letter from the Saudi king on Sharif's behalf and a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said he was unable to comment. However, Khawaja M. Asif, a close aide of Sharif's, told NEWSWEEK that the Saudi monarch had "committed to Sharif that if Benazir Bhutto were allowed to come back, they would not stop his return." According to Asif, the Saudis want to "wash their hands off this matter and are pressing Musharraf for Sharif's return.
At this stage, there is no clear indication about why the Saudis--lately vilified in Pakistan for agreeing to take Sharif back after his abortive return attempt--have changed their minds. One possibility: their concern about the show of public support for Bhutto--who is more secular than Sharif--on her return. "The Saudis have reacted to the personal advocacy of Sharif demanding a level playing field when he met the king after his deportation," says Parvez Hassan, a lawyer and political analyst who has worked with Sharif.
This Newsweek report was corroborated by Daily Times as well.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is pressing President General Pervez Musharraf to allow former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to return home before the upcoming general elections, Daily Times has learnt.
Highly-placed intelligence sources said that King Abdullah communicated this appeal to Gen Musharraf on October 15.
In your Blogger’s opinion the Saudis are probably perturbed by heavy criticism they have received in Pakistan for their direct interference in Pakistani politics. Generals may come and go, but the last thing Riyadh would wish is to be at the receiving end of loathing from ordinary citizens of Pakistan. It is likely that as the 'Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques' the Saudi King would much rather prefer to be loved than reviled by the Muslims of Pakistan.
Let’s see who wins this current battle of wits.
One may make out the regime's desperation from the following item in today's Dawn
LAHORE, Oct 26: Former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has refused to meet President Pervez Musharraf in Jeddah, a party leader said in a statement here on Friday.
Dr Saeed Elahi, who met the exiled leader at his residence in the port city, said on his return here that a leader of a brotherly country had told Mr Sharif that Gen Musharraf wanted to see him and offer concessions in the light of the National Reconciliation Ordinance. The PML-N leader was also told that he could also be allowed to return home like some other leaders.
According to the statement, Mr Sharif made it clear that he would neither meet the general nor accept any concessions.
The exiled leader, according to the statement, said the best formula for the national reconciliation was that he should be allowed to return home without any obstacles. Also, he said, free and fair elections should be held with a free hand to all parties to contest.
With Nawaz Sharif telling him to get lost, it's not surprising that Musharraf's denials are getting louder and louder.