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Bhutto Reports Contacts with Pakistan Government About Possible Return


Pakistan's self-exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has confirmed discussions with President Pervez Musharraf's government about her possible return to the country. But she says General Musharaff would have to end his dual role as president and army chief before she returned. VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

Benazir Bhutto's comments, made to reporters in Dubai but carried by Pakistani television, fed speculation about a possible deal with her political rival, President Pervez Musharraf.

She says there have been contacts with the government, but she cannot say whether a deal will be reached.

Ms. Bhutto says any agreement would have to include an end to General Musharraf's role as army chief.

In the brief exchange with reporters in Dubai, Ms. Bhutto said Pakistan's powerful military must, in her words, "go back to the barracks."

Ms. Bhutto was Pakistan's prime minister twice, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She fled Pakistan nearly ten years ago to avoid corruption and graft charges stemming from her time in office.

She continues to head the country's largest opposition group, the Pakistan People's Party, from her base in Dubai. Party officials say talks about her return have focused on the dropping of corruption charges.

President Musharraf's dismissal of the country's top judge on March 9 galvanized the opposition, which has mounted a series of massive demonstrations calling for Mr. Musharraf to step down.

Retired General Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based political analyst, says that General Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, is facing growing criticism and may want Benazir Bhutto to help protect his hold on power.

"He needs that support desperately," said General Masood. "He needs a party that has political grassroots support in the country."

General Masood says that despite being rivals for power, Musharraf and Bhutto are natural political allies, because both support greater rights for women and oppose religious hard-liners.

He says a final deal would likely exchange an end to the corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto in return for her support for Mr. Musharraf's re-election.

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