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Benazir Bhutto's Return to Pakistan


A major American news magazine – Newsweek – calls Pakistan an even more dangerous nation than Iraq. It says the unstable nuclear state has become a safe haven for al-Qaida and for the Taliban. In the years since Taliban leaders were forced to flee Afghanistan, there are signs of their resurgence as well as mounting evidence they have crossed the border into Pakistan where many now operate throughout the country.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan last week after 8 years of self-imposed exile, hoping she might be able to cinch a power-sharing deal with General Pervez Musharraf, who was reelected president on October 6. During a mass rally in Karachi in which Ms. Bhutto was the target of an assassination attempt, about 140 of her supporters were killed. She blamed the Pakistani government for insufficient protection for her convoy, while President Musharraf responded by proposing a ban on large political rallies.

Pro-Taliban militants are viewed as the most likely suspects behind last week’s deadly blasts. Anwar Iqbal, Washington correspondent for Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language daily, says that terrorism is unfortunately beyond the government’s ability to control. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Iqbal says he agrees with the government that a rally, such as Ms. Bhutto’s with a million people, poses real hazards.

Bronwen Maddox, chief foreign commentator of The Times of London, who accompanied Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan, agrees. She says the sort of campaigning that Ms. Bhutto tried on her arrival is a “thing of the past.”

But Pakistani journalist Husain Haqqani, a former ambassador, who directs Boston University’s Center for International Relations, says he thinks there is obviously some foundation for Ms. Bhutto’s criticism of the Pakistani government for lapses in security during her mass rally in Karachi. Although most people think the attack was the work of terrorists, Mr. Haqqani suggests that the role of people within the government was probably to have “allowed” the terrorists to “go through with it and not make adequate security arrangements rather than actively to connive against Ms. Bhutto.” He regards it as “very suspicious that the streetlights went off on the main arterial road in Karachi” when so many people were on the street.

Mr. Haqqani suggests that Benazir Bhutto’s dramatic homecoming may have actually improved her chances of becoming Prime Minister. He said she showed that she has a substantial support base, that she has “enormous courage,” and that she is astute in being the “only major Pakistani political figure” who argues that terrorism poses a threat to Pakistan itself and the need to fight terrorism goes far beyond mere cooperation with the United States.

Bronwen Maddox agrees and predicts that Benazir Bhutto is likely to become Pakistan’s next prime minister – if there is a constitutional change to allow it. Ms. Maddox says the power-sharing deal between President Musharraf and former Prime Minister Bhutto looks like a “very possible shape of the future.” She notes that they share the same sort of “liberal, Westernized, progressive mentality” and they differ from the “conservative, religious, more Islamist outlook.” However, the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether General Musharraf’s re-election is valid, and it is unclear whether the ban on a prime minister’s serving a third term will be set aside. In addition, Ms. Bhutto continues to receive death threats from al-Qaida supporters.

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