Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said today that she believes that a power-sharing deal with President General Pervez Musharraf could work if he ceded sufficient power to the parliament.
While Bhutto would not confirm reports that she had met with Musharraf in Abu Dhabi last month for secret talks on a possible deal, she said that she has been negotiating directly with officials from Musharraf's government.
And she strongly hinted that contacts took place that she was not yet willing to describe.
"The presidency has said that there are no direct contacts and we haven't officially admitted such contacts," she told CNN.
"There are certain issues which under the code under which they took place are deemed to be private, so I would like to confine myself to just saying that there have been contacts between the military regime and the Pakistan People's Party, including myself."
Bhutto, who still leads the Pakistan People's Party from exile in London and the United Arab Emirates, fled the country to avoid corruption charges after her second government collapsed in 1996.
Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether she could overcome disagreements with Musharraf to work with him, she said: "If the people of Pakistan gave me a mandate, yes, but there would need to be a balance between the powers of the presidency and the powers of the parliament."
Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, is in the weakest position of his political career.
He recently attempted, and failed, to oust Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, an independent-minded judge who could rule on expected legal challenges to Musharraf's plans for re-election. He has also been weakened by an escalation in Islamic militancy.
There has been a surge in attacks since a Pakistani army assault on the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad last month killed at least 102 people.
Pakistan watchers say that for Musharraf to stand any chance of retaining office, he must cut a power-sharing deal with Bhutto.
Bhutto repeated her insistence that Musharraf give up his post as the country's military leader under any deal.
"I don't think that is realistic because when the president of a country also wears a uniform it blurs the distinction between democracy and military rule," she said. "I think it is very important for General Musharraf to take off the uniform."