Bhutto Arranges Return to Pakistan After Exile, Promotes Anti-Terrorism
As the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, wrestles with swelling public disaffection over his rule, one of his key political rivals, Benazir Bhutto, has embarked on an international campaign to revive her political standing.
In recent weeks, Bhutto, 53, a former prime minister and the leader of the Pakistan People's Party who has lived in exile since 1999, has stepped up her criticism of the Taliban who operate in the remote regions of the country. She has sought to marginalize Islamist political parties from an opposition party alliance that has emerged in anticipation of elections later this year.
Seeking to assure Washington that she would be a staunch ally, she has suggested that as an elected leader, she would be more credible in selling anti-terrorism efforts to Pakistani citizens than Musharraf, who has been criticized by Washington for a mixed record in combating the Taliban and al-Qaida within Pakistan's borders. She has even brought her campaign here, to the capital of her nation's archrival: India.
"I don't think our present regime has been able to dissociate my country's name with terrorism, and I believe a popular democratic government can," she said at a dinner attended by members of the Indian political and corporate elite here in the India's capital on a Saturday night in late March.
In Washington, Bhutto has hired a lobbying firm to help sell that same message. In March she wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post directed at the Washington establishment. In February, she spoke to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Bhutto has lived in self-imposed exile as a result of a long litany of corruption charges that still hound her. Today she divides her time between London and Dubai, and appears ever more intent on preparing the ground for a possible return to Pakistan, though many obstacles remain.
"Her strategy seems to be to try and persuade the international community that changes in the way Pakistan is governed — changes that would eventually favor her — are also good for the war against terror," said Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to Bhutto who is now director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University.
At the moment, at least, it seems unlikely that the Bush administration will heed Bhutto's argument. The White House remains committed to Musharraf, even through the latest protests against his administration — protests that began ostensibly against his suspension of his country's chief justice, but have since come to represent growing frustration against military rule.
Analysts in Washington and Islamabad point out that the White House remains skeptical of Bhutto's capacity, questioning her authority over Pakistan's military and intelligence services and troubled by charges that she and her husband illegally gained millions of dollars in deals with people who did business with the government when she was in power.