Sikandar, Attique told to patch up
5 March 2004
MUZAFFARABAD: Polarization in the Muslim Conference persisted on Friday but there were signals that it could wind down in a couple of days in the wake of repeated 'advice' by the powers that be to both the sides to bury their differences 'in the larger interest of the Kashmir freedom struggle.' 'The powers that matter have asked both the sides to patch up their differences in the interest of the liberation movement,' sources told Dawn on Friday. A Muslim Conference leader confirmed the 'advice' but said it did not mean that a status quo would remain in Azad Kashmir for long. 'If at all there is a patch up, it will only be aimed at providing a face saving to both the sides, but ultimately the premier will have to go within four to six months,' the leader claimed. Muslim Conference President Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, who challenges Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat, held another meeting with Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lt-Gen Ashfaq Kayani and discussed options to defuse the tension that has marred Azad Kashmir for more than 10 days. According to sources, the party chief was advised 'to tolerate the premier for four to six months, after which a change will take effect.' 'It may be because developments regarding the Kashmir issue will take place in the coming months and any change during that period may not create a good impression,' they said. Sardar Attique and his associates were holding meetings at Mujahid Manzil in Rawalpindi to discuss their course of action in the wake of 'repeated advice' by the military authorities, sources said. 'A number of options are under discussion at the moment, such as voluntary stepping down of the prime minister, secret ballot, vote of no confidence or some respite to Sardar Sikandar,' Sardar Attique told this correspondent. 'We want that the settlement should be out of (the assembly) floor and within the party platform,' he added. Muslim Conference sources said Sardar Attique and his colleagues were in particular deliberating on what guarantees they should obtain if they went by the advice of the powers that mattered. But Sardar Attique denied having arrived at any conclusion. Responding to a question, he said he would seek the will of his colleagues regarding maintenance of the status quo. 'If they do not favour a status quo, I will have to respect their opinion,' he said. Sources close to Sardar Sikandar said it had almost been decided that he would continue as the prime minister. 'Sardar Attique may have a majority in the parliamentary party but we have the support of the Rajput community,' he remarked, in a clear reference to a top official from the prime minister's community. He said a formula for the 'face saving' of the rebel group was being worked out in Islamabad. The AJK cabinet met on Friday but only the official business was taken up by the eight ministers present without any discussion on the political crisis. The four rebel ministers did not show up. The meeting was initially scheduled for Thursday and the prime minister had declared that he would sack those ministers who would abstain, but it was deferred for a day. There were reports that the prime minister had been asked to cancel the meeting on Friday as well but he declined to do that. The meeting lasted for about two hours, but the prime minister avoided the newsmen afterwards. The AJK Legislative Assembly is due to meet on Saturday. Sardar Attique said he had asked the legislators to attend the session, if possible.