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Pakistan cabinet minister resigns

  • Story Highlights
  • Junior minister resigns, says president should not campaign as army chief
  • President Pervez Musharraf sends envoys to negotiate with ex-PM Bhutto
  • Bhutto and ex-PM Sharif expected to return to Pakistan
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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- A minister resigned from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's cabinet on Monday as the embattled leader sent envoys abroad to negotiate on a power-sharing pact, government officials said.

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Khakwani: Pakistan President Musharraf should not run for re-election while acting as the nation's army chief.

Ishaq Khan Khakwani, Pakistan's minister for information technology, resigned to protest President Pervez Musharraf's plan to stand for re-election while remaining Pakistan's military chief, the minister told CNN.

Khakwani met with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at the prime minister's house on Monday to turn in his resignation, government sources said.

Government sources also said that senior government officials met with Khakwani on Monday in an attempt to persuade him to stay on.

Khakwani told CNN it would not be good for the country for Musharraf to stand for election in uniform. He should stand on his performance during eight years in office rather than the uniform, he said.

Musharraf took over the presidency in 1999 in a bloodless coup that toppled then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The army general was elected president in a 2002 vote that was widely viewed as rigged. His five-year presidential term expires in November, and he is seeking to retain his position as president and army chief.

Sharif, Bhutto plan returns to Pakistan

Last week, Pakistan's Supreme Court lifted the exile imposed on Sharif, and both he and self-exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto say they will return to Pakistan to take part in the upcoming elections.

Bhutto and Sharif are expected to announce their departure dates from London -- where they have been meeting with members of their political parties -- this week. The election process begins September 15. Sharif has called on Musharraf to abandon his efforts to remain in power.

Bhutto has said she would serve in Musharraf's government, but only if he relinquishes his position as army chief. Musharraf has sent representatives to London to negotiate with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on a power-sharing pact, the Reuters news service reported on Monday.

Liberal-minded Bhutto is seen as a natural ally of Musharraf, who promotes a vision of "enlightened moderation" for his country. Both oppose Islamist militancy. Her Pakistan People's Party is generally seen as the country's most popular party, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether Musharraf can legally seek a second five-year term as president. The court is led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was recently reinstated after he was suspended in March by Musharraf. His suspension triggered massive protests and accusations that the Pakistani president was trying to influence the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling.

Government sources said that parliamentary elections will be announced following the completion of the presidential election.

Musharraf wielded a tight grip on power after imposing military rule following the 1999 coup, but has seen an increased backlash after failed attempts to control Islamic militants within the country's borders as well as his controversial suspension of Chaudhry.

The United States and other Western countries are likely to watch developments closely in a nuclear-armed ally seen as vital to efforts to tackle terrorism and pacify Afghanistan. Last weekend Pakistan said it had successfully test-fired a new missile that "can carry all types of warheads."

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U.S. President George W. Bush supports Musharraf, whom the American leaders views as a key ally in the war on terrorism.

Administration officials have toned down that support in recent months after intelligence assessments indicated Musharraf's agreement with tribal leaders gave al Qaeda and Taliban militants free rein along the Afghan border. That agreement has since been scrapped and the Pakistani military has resumed operations in the tribal regions. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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