In last week's elections in Pakistan, no party won enough seats to form a government outright. The second-largest number of seats went to the Pakistan Peoples' Party, headed by self-exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Benazir Bhutto told VOA her party will likely end up sitting in opposition, rather than join a coalition government. She said this is due in large part to pledges by the third-place Islamic parties to expel U.S. forces from Pakistan. "As far as the religious parties are concerned, we have a difference of opinion on foreign policy and on U.S. bases," she explained.
Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party came in second in the elections, behind the PMLQ, a party loyal to military ruler President Pervez Musharraf. A six-party coalition of religious parties made a surprisingly strong showing for the third-highest number of seats.
Ms. Bhutto has little in common with President Musharraf, who barred her from competing in the elections, and even less with the religious parties. "We are stuck between the military's surrogates and the religious parties," she said. "Now we have very little in common with both these parties. If either of these parties agrees to creating a strong parliament, to creating unity and promises to look at a compassionate democracy, well, maybe we can work with them. But, frankly, the chances are very slim and we are probably going to end up in opposition."
The religious parties also won control of the provincial assemblies of the two provinces bordering Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan. Ms. Bhutto said that will prove frustrating to the U.S.-led efforts to track down remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida. "The central government will cooperate with the United States, but the provincial governments of Baluchistan and Frontier will not cooperate with the United States," she said, "and I think the United States will find itself increasingly frustrated on Afghanistan's tribal areas, which border on Pakistan. And as the Americans get more frustrated, General Musharaff will say, 'See, I told you, you need a dictatorship; you do not really need a democracy.'"
Ms. Bhutto hopes the religious parties, with their new found political weight, will not cut off the West. "The religious parties have said that they are going to try to build bridges to the West. I hope to God they do," she said. "Because if they fail to do that, I fear for my country. One of our strategic goals is to have a South Asia that is free from extremism and militancy. And we believe that the U.S.-led war against terror is an important one in building such a South Asia."
Benazir Bhutto was twice prime minister of Pakistan. She currently lives abroad, facing corruption-related charges if she returns. She said her safe return to Pakistan is not a condition of her party's sharing power, but pledges she will go back at some point. "I will return, but my return is in my hands," she said. "I can do that with or without Musharraf."
In the meantime, Benazir Bhutto continues to try to manage her party's affairs from exile.