Bhutto Won't Put Off Return to Pakistan

The Associated Press
Thursday, October 11, 2007; 6:18 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said Thursday she will return to Pakistan next week to campaign for parliamentary elections even though Gen. Pervez Musharraf wants her to delay until his new presidential term is confirmed.

Bhutto plans a grand homecoming Oct. 18, to resurrect a political career on hold since she went into self-imposed exile in 1999 to avoid corruption charges.

Musharraf last week enacted an amnesty quashing cases against her and other politicians, the culmination of months of talks between the two that Western allies hope laid the foundation for an alliance to fight Islamic extremism in Pakistan after the election in early January.

But Musharraf's own future as Pakistan's president still hangs in the balance.

On Wednesday, he urged Bhutto to postpone her return until after the Supreme Court rules on petitions arguing he was ineligible for election to a new five-year presidential term because he also holds the powerful post of army chief. The court is due to resume hearings Oct. 17, the day before Bhutto is scheduled to land in Karachi.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, said the two-time prime minister was sticking to her plans.

"Mohtarma Bhutto will come on Oct. 18 as scheduled," Babar told The Associated Press. Mohtarma is an honorific.

He denied a report in the newspaper Dawn that Bhutto would discuss a possible delay with senior aides Thursday. He confirmed a meeting was taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but said a postponement was not on the agenda.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, swept a presidential election by lawmakers last weekend, but must wait for the court to decide whether he can remain in office. If the court rules in his favor, he has promised to relinquish his command of the army and restore civilian rule.

Speculation continues to swirl among Pakistanis over whether Musharraf might declare martial law if the court disqualified him. In a television interview Wednesday, he was noncommittal on how he would react to such a ruling.

"We will cross the bridge when we reach it," he said. His term expires Nov. 15.

The Supreme Court has been a thorn in Musharraf's side since he unsuccessfully tried to oust its top judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, last spring. The move sparked street protests against eight years of military rule, then the court ordered Chaudhry reinstated.

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