MARDAN, PAKISTAN, OCT. 19 -- Her husband has been jailed, her government dismissed, her reputation tarnished, and now Benazir Bhutto is traversing the countryside looking for votes.

Swarms of male supporters attack her Toyota jeep, pounding on the doors, climbing on the roof, craning to snap photographs. The crowd seems to enjoy its playful violence, but as she smiles and waves mechanically from the front seat, Bhutto says she detects "a great sense of anger" as Pakistan's national elections approach.

Anger is certainly what Bhutto feels these days -- toward her political opponents, toward Pakistan's powerful military and toward what she sees as a shifting web of conspirators bent on destroying her family, her political career and the promise of democracy in a country that has barely known it. Wednesday's elections, she says, are "a side issue" in comparison to the bare-knuckled battle for power between the military-backed "establishment" and her Pakistan People's Party.

Despite Pakistan's myriad social, economic and ethnic problems, political leaders on both sides have become so obsessed with alleged plots hatched by their enemies that they have stopped concentrating on how to strengthen crumbling civil institutions or how to steer their fractious country into the next century. Virtually no attention has been paid to social or economic issues during this fall's campaign.

Instead, conspiracies and dirty tricks, real or imagined, have become the only serious issues in Pakistan's national campaign. Allegations about forged documents, terrorist plots, American imperialist designs, tortured witnesses, treason, wiretappings, secret videotapings, assassination attempts and vote fraud schemes cascade through the newspapers and the polity.

The wild charges might be dismissed as desperate tactics in a country where democracy is young and conspiracy theorizing seems a national pasttime. But allegations of treason and terrorist plots have preceded electoral violence and military intervention in Pakistan's past. And this time, the charges reflect a genuine standoff between Bhutto's secular People's Party and Pakistan's heavily Islamic military, particularly its two powerful intelligence agencies, Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) and the Directorate of Military Intelligence (MI).

That confrontation, which has moved into the open since Bhutto's elected government was dismissed on corruption and nepotism charges Aug. 6, is polarizing the country's voters and setting the stage for a volatile campaign finish.

Privately, military intelligence officers and senior People's Party leaders speak of their visceral hatred for each other. The army, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its 43 years of independence, accuses Bhutto and the People's Party of knuckling under to U.S. pressure and betraying Pakistan's national interest by resisting full development of a nuclear bomb and blocking covert military aid to Moslem insurgents in the disputed Indian state of Kashmir. The People's Party accuses the army of driving Pakistan toward suicidal militarism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Describing in detail their 20 months in office, senior People's Party officials talk of an elaborate "Spy vs. Spy" contest played out within the Islamabad government between the civilian administration and the military intelligence agencies. The espionage reportedly involved extensive internal wiretaps, physical surveillance and even leaked MI reports to Bhutto about purported immoral behavior by her and her husband. At one point, senior People's Party officials say, Bhutto ordered a "sting" operation against the army, leading to the secret videotaping of a brigadier general who was allegedly trying to woo defectors from the People's Party ranks.

It appeared two months ago that the final gambit in this contest for power would be Bhutto's dismissal from office by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, with backing from the army. Bhutto's opponents in Islamabad apparently calculated that the People's Party would collapse before the Oct. 24 vote under the weight of defections and corruption charges and that an army-backed conservative government led by the Islamic Democratic Alliance, a coalition that opposed Bhutto in the last elections, would take office.

Instead, a perception that the move against Bhutto was unfair and vindictive has provided the People's Party with a strong campaign platform it might otherwise have lacked. Amid a swell of popular support, expectations are rising that Bhutto may match the plurality of National Assembly seats she won in 1988 and perhaps improve on it. And with the U.S. government threatening to cut off military and economic aid if fair elections are not held, the army is under strong pressure to supervise an impartial vote.

Some army officers have vowed privately that they will not permit Bhutto to become prime minister again, while some People's Party leaders have been heard to say that the time may have come to settle their score with the military. But amid the fighting words, Bhutto suggested in an interview that she may be willing to dodge a confrontation this time -- if a reasonably fair election comes off on Wednesday.

"One of the great difficulties of my {previous} government was the fact that I was being destabilized from within," she said. "Unless I can have a sense of assurance that the {People's Party} will be given a chance, even if we win the largest number of seats, we may choose not to form a government."

At the center of Pakistan's political storm is Bhutto's controversial political personality, shaped not only by her Western education at Harvard and Oxford universities but also by her experiences as a feudal heiress in the maelstrom of Pakistani politics.

Bhutto's political opponents accuse her of arrogance, blindness to the failings of those around her and a virtually paranoid obsession with the maneuverings of her political enemies. They say it was Bhutto's failure to compromise and her inability to take stock of the weaknesses in her government that led to her August dismissal and set the stage for this autumn's polarized campaign.

"She fought with no holds barred," said Abida Hussain, a minister in the rightist caretaker government. "And the resources of the state were very shamelessly used" by Bhutto to win political advantage, he added.

Even People's Party sympathizers concede that Bhutto was at times isolated, arrogant and unable to confront the truth about problems in her government because she was surrounded by sycophants. "The way the People's Party works, there are very few who have the courage to speak their minds," said Najam Sethi, editor of the leftist Friday Times newspaper.

Bhutto's aides deny all allegations of misconduct and say that if the former prime minister sometimes seems paranoid, it is only because her enemies really are out to get her. In the last 15 years, they note, Bhutto has seen her father hanged for murder by a military dictator, her oldest brother exiled for terrorist hijackings, another brother poisoned mysteriously and, most recently, her husband imprisoned on kidnapping and extortion charges.

"The fact is that since 1977, there is absolutely nothing that {factions of the army} have not tried to do to her and her family," said Shafkat Mahmoud, one of Bhutto's political advisers. "There is a reason to be apprehensive and to feel persecuted."

Bhutto's opponents reject this interpretation. They say Bhutto has fooled her Western sympathizers into thinking that she is an innocent victim of conspiracies spun by Pakistan's military, when in fact she and her family are guilty of serious misconduct and are only getting what they deserve.

In the end, however, people as disparate as Bhutto and Mubashir Hassan, a People's Party founder and former Bhutto government minister who has broken ties with her, have said the upcoming vote may be irrelevant to Pakistan's future, given the present polarization of the electorate and the weakness of civilian government. "The problems are too formidable," Hassan said.

Bhutto and her aides continue to insist that if they are be permitted to govern the country without interference from the military, they will set Pakistan on a course toward modernization and democracy. Whether they're right or wrong about their own abilities, few in Pakistan expect Benazir Bhutto to be granted such a second chance anytime soon.