Bhutto's party woos Pakistan Islamists

ISLAMABAD Fri Feb 29, 2008 2:10pm EST

1 of 3. Pakistan's former opposition leader and pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman (R) joins hands with Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and leader of the Pakistan People's Party (L), upon meeting in Islamabad February 28, 2008. Pakistani opposition parties which inflicted a crushing defeat on President Musharraf's allies in last week's election vowed on Thursday to banish the military from politics after coming into power.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani opposition parties that inflicted a big defeat on President Pervez Musharraf's allies in last week's election are trying to woo Islamists to build a coalition that could threaten the rule of the U.S. ally.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and leader of her party, on Thursday night met Fazl-ur-Rehman, a hardline Islamic cleric and discussed the possibility of forming a "government of national consensus".

Representatives of both leaders were due to meet again on Friday evening for more discussions.

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) won most seats in the February 18 election, but not enough to rule alone. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, came second.

Zardari has called for a coalition government made up of all parties except Musharraf's main ally, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), which suffered a humiliating defeat in the polls.

"We support the idea of a government of national consensus because it is in the interest of the country and nation," Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, a close aide to Rehman, told Reuters.

"No party can address the problems of the country alone," said Haideri, who is leading his side in the talks with the


Voters rejected the Islamist parties that emerged as a major bloc after the last election in 2002.

The PPP is already in talks with Sharif's party on the formation of a coalition.

The PPP is seen as the most liberal and Western-leaning Pakistani party and analysts say it has nothing in common with the Islamist groups, some of which sympathize with the Taliban, except opposition to the unpopular Musharraf.

Haideri said his party, which has seven seats in the National Assembly, would vote to rescind Musharraf's power to dismiss the government and for the abolition of a National Security Council formed by Musharraf to oversee the affairs of the government.

Important U.S. ally Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup when he was army chief.

(Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)