Sun, Aug 05, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Former Pakistani PM Bhutto to contest poll


Self-exiled former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will return home in October and contest national elections despite the threat of imprisonment, one of her political advisers said.

Bhutto, who still leads the Pakistan People's Party from exile in London and the United Arab Emirates, fled the country to avoid corruption charges after her second government collapsed in 1996.

"She's going to return from London to Pakistan in October," Bhutto's political adviser Wajid Shamsul Hasan said on Friday.

Hasan said Bhutto would wait until the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins in September, before making her return.

It has been widely reported that Bhutto met with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi last month for secret talks over a power-sharing deal. Hasan refused to comment on the talks.

Both Bhutto and Musharraf have declined to comment on a meeting.

But Bhutto has said her party has long been in talks with the government about restoring civilian rule.

Bhutto, 54, is not frightened about the possibility of arrest should she return, Hasan said, adding, "Politics is a very daring game in our part of the world and she has no fear."

Parliamentary elections are slated for December or January and Bhutto's party, the main opposition, is expected to do well.

Hasan said final plans have not been materialized, but Bhutto's party has been boosted by a string of defections from Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League movement.

"She's very confident." Hasan said. "She has the support of the people and her party won the most votes in the 2002 elections."

Musharraf is in the weakest position of his political career. He recently attempted, and failed, to oust Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, an independent-minded judge who could rule on expected legal challenges to Musharraf's plans for re-election. He has also been weakened by an escalation in Islamic militancy.

There has been a surge in attacks since an army assault on the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad earlier this month killed at least 102 people.

Pakistan watchers say that for Musharraf to stand any chance of retaining office, he must cut a power sharing deal with Bhutto.

She has hinted previously that she may be willing to accept an alliance, but she has also been a sharp critic, calling Musharraf a dictator and insisting he must resign his role as army chief.

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