Bhutto Calls On Musharraf To Resign
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 13 -- Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, under house arrest in Lahore, called Tuesday for President Pervez Musharraf to quit and reached out to her main political rivals, opening the way for a common front among anti-government forces that so far have been divided by mistrust and ambition.
Bhutto, whose arrest prevented her from leading a 210-mile procession from Lahore to Islamabad, the capital, has for several months been engaged in quiet power-sharing negotiations with Musharraf. But on Tuesday, after nine days of increasing tension following the president's declaration of emergency rule, she broke sharply with him, declaring she would not serve as prime minister during his presidency and suggesting her party would boycott parliamentary elections in January.
"I'm calling for General Musharraf to step down, to quit, to leave, to end martial law," Bhutto said in a telephone interview with foreign journalists. "I will not be able to work with General Musharraf, because I simply would not be able to believe anything he said to me."
Bhutto's sharp comments came as anti-government demonstrators battled police in several cities. Cable television coverage -- available only by satellite because of a government-instituted blackout -- showed running men, clouds of tear gas and vehicles in flames. In the southern city of Karachi, protesters fired at two police stations after a violent clash with police, but no one was killed, authorities said. The house in Lahore where Bhutto was staying remained barricaded and surrounded by security forces.
At the same time, Bhutto reached out to competing political parties she had previously shunned, especially the Pakistan Muslim League headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the Jamaat-e-Islami religious party headed by Qazi Hussain Ahmed. She said they should agree on a "minimum agenda" and demand that Musharraf restore the constitution, reinstate deposed judges and lift emergency rule.
Musharraf, under mounting international pressure, announced Saturday that elections would be held in January, but he refused to say when he would lift the emergency, under which public meetings and rallies are banned and many private television stations have been shut down.
The Bush administration plans to send John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, to Pakistan later this week for talks with Musharraf. Officials said Negroponte will carry a tough message that emergency rule must be lifted in order to prevent elections from being discredited.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to Tennessee, said Tuesday that the United States is particularly concerned that elections take place "in a different atmosphere than now. You can't have free and fair elections with the kinds of restrictions on the media that you have, with the kinds of restrictions on assembly of opposition."
The White House also acknowledged the growing turmoil in a country that has been key to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Until now, Washington has been reluctant to publicly criticize Musharraf and quick to praise him for even small positive steps, arousing anger and frustration among many Pakistanis.
"The most important thing is for the country to return to its democratic path," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "That's why we are having to urge strongly President Musharraf to get back on the path to the constitution."
Until recently, the Bush administration also had supported Bhutto's exploration of a deal with Musharraf in a bid to help stabilize the country, which has a nuclear arsenal and a growing Islamic extremist movement. Bhutto, 54, returned from an eight-year exile last month in hopes of galvanizing popular support and eventually becoming prime minister for a third time.
In the days since, she has veered between contradictory images, holding protest marches one minute and being shuttered under house arrest the next, visiting diplomats under VIP escort while thousands of her supporters were being detained.
On Tuesday, imprisoned in a mansion belonging to a legislator from her party and faced with mounting skepticism about her intentions, Bhutto seemed to have made her choice.
As police stopped a caravan of her supporters not 50 miles into their "long march" to the capital, she worked the phones from the house, issuing constant denunciations of the man she was once shown in cartoons as "marrying" in South Asian wedding garb.
"Pakistan and Musharraf cannot coexist. He must go. My dialogue with him is over," she told a cable TV channel. She said that once the seven-day detention order against her expires, she intends "to build a broad-based alliance with a one-point agenda for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law." Sources said intermediaries had arranged phone conversations involving her, Ahmed, Sharif and another key political leader, Imran Khan.
Analysts and politicians said Bhutto's moves could be a significant step toward uniting what until now have been fractured and isolated protest efforts by secular and religious parties, students, lawyers and women's civic groups. Thousands of lawyers have boycotted courts across the country since Musharraf fired a number of senior judges under emergency rule.
"Today Benazir said clearly that Musharraf has to go, which is what the others were waiting for her to say," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore. "This is an initial sign that things are moving toward a single wavelength. If the trend continues, it will create a very difficult situation for Musharraf."
A spokesman for Sharif, who is in exile in Saudi Arabia, said that he was "very happy" about Bhutto's comments and that they "vindicated our position that all democratic forces must put aside their differences." The "new twist of martial law" may end up being the impetus for "a new start, and a new movement to restore democracy," the spokesman, Ehsan Iqbal, said by cellphone from an undisclosed location in Pakistan.
A leader of Sharif's party in Peshawar, where police beat dozens of protesters Tuesday, expressed bitter disappointment with Bhutto, calling her "a spent bullet for Pervez Musharraf." However, the leader, Anwar Kamal Marwat, said that if Bhutto's party works to overcome mistrust, "I think we can lend our support . . . and line up a united opposition against the military dictator."
Bhutto said her "breaking point" came during the previous 24 hours when she learned from aides that an estimated 7,500 activists from her Pakistan People's Party had been arrested across the country, with police raiding homes at night, kicking in doors and breaking windows.
"I realized the depth of public anger towards General Musharraf," she said. The brutal crackdown "left my party with the conclusion that he does not really want to do business with us. It made it clear that he was using us as icing on the cake to make sure no one notices the cake was poisoned."
Wax reported from Lahore. Special correspondent Imtiaz Ali in Peshawar and staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.