PPP's Musharraf policy unchanged despite Bush's backing, says Defence Minister

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Lahore, June 2 : The Pakistani Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar said on Sunday that the Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led Government would not change its policy towards President Pervez Musharraf in spite of President Bush's support to the beleaguered leader.

Bush had made the phone call, expressing support for Musharraf in his "personal capacity" and should not be taken as a backing by the US government, he said.

Mukhtar said the top priority of PPP's leadership was "to save the government" even if it had to sacrifice its relationship with any person.

"If you have to survive, you have to leave the President. He is an unpopular leader".

On PPP's obligations towards the National Reconciliation Ordinance, he said the agreement between the PPP and the President was no longer "valid or useful" after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

He also refuted claims, that at a recent meeting General Parvez Kayani had asked Musharraf to step down, as rumours.

"The Army Chief is a very straight soldier and his policy of non-interference in civilian matters is very clear," Mukhtar said.

He rejected reports that a foreign plane had come to Islamabad to take Musharraf and his family out of the country.

Mukhtar also stated that if the President's powers to dissolve the National Assembly or appoint Governors and services chiefs were taken away Musharraf might step down on his own.

He suggested Asif Ali Zardari would be the best choice in case the President's power to dissolve the Assembly remained intact.

In fact, if the President was to be deprived of all powers and reduced to a ceremonial figure then anyone could be elevated to that posting, according to Mukhtar.

He was also emphatic that the next President would belong to the PPP because it was the majority party in Parliament.

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