Bhutto seeks Musharraf's resignation

Declaration that she won't share power with him dims U.S. hopes

November 14, 2007|By Kim Barker | Kim Barker,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said yesterday that she would not agree to govern with Pakistan's embattled president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and called for him to resign, indicating that a U.S.-backed power-sharing arrangement between the two has collapsed, plunging the country into further uncertainty.

Bhutto, placed under house arrest to prevent her from taking part in a 160-mile opposition procession to the capital, Islamabad, also said it is unlikely that her Pakistan People's Party would run in parliamentary elections in early January, further undermining their legitimacy.

Musharraf, in an interview with The New York Times, rejected Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's demand that he lift the state of emergency declared Nov. 3. He also sharply criticized Bhutto, questioning her support among Pakistanis and calling her plans for a protest rally "preposterous."

With the crisis deepening, the Bush administration said Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte would be heading this week to Pakistan, where he is expected to emphasize the demand that Musharraf end emergency rule.

Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, told a gathering in Islamabad yesterday that the emergency "seriously set back" Pakistan's progress toward democracy.

"The United States is urging your government not to throw away in weeks what it has taken years to achieve," Patterson said.

Such criticism from the United States is unusual and comes amid signs that the Bush administration could be hardening its stance against the Pakistani leader. He is seen as a key player in the U.S.-led war against terror and, until now, Washington has been reluctant to criticize him.

With Negroponte expected to arrive by week's end, some analysts believe the Bush administration might be about to give Musharraf an ultimatum: Back off and give up absolute power or face losing U.S. support.

"I think from John Negroponte the message is going to be, `Can you back away'" from the emergency? said Husain Haqqani, a Bhutto confidant and Pakistan expert at Boston University.

"What the U.S. is now having to decide is: What is more important: a longer-term relationship with Pakistan or backing a `friend'? Musharraf's ability to help in the war on terrorism is becoming less and less if he's busy fighting lawyers and students and the media," Haqqani said.

Negroponte's trip - scheduled before the crisis in Pakistan - was seen in Washington as signaling a possible rethinking of Pakistan policy by two camps within the Bush administration.

"There are differing views about how long to hold on to Musharraf and when to face what I see as the reality, that he will be gone in 10 minutes or 10 months," said Frederick Barton, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Barton said he believes the side arguing to keep backing Musharraf, which "probably" includes Vice President Dick Cheney, might be yielding on its stance that the Pakistani strongman is the only alternative in trying to protect U.S. interests.

"I think what's happened is that the pragmatic side has actually shifted, and what was seen as pragmatic has actually shifted," Barton said. "The numbers on the other side of Musharraf are getting too big. At what point do you recognize 150 million people?"

In Lahore, Bhutto said she felt she could not trust Musharraf, felt let down by him and would not serve as prime minister while he was president.

"We were interested in contesting the elections and forming a government," Bhutto said in a phone interview yesterday with Western journalists waiting outside the security cordon surrounding the Lahore house where she was under house arrest.

"Now we've come to the conclusion [that] even if we get power, it will just be a show of power. It won't be substantive power."

Only a few dozen supporters showed up yesterday in Bhutto's neighborhood, cordoned off by thousands of police officers, barbed wire, trucks and city security barriers.

Bhutto said 7,500 supporters were arrested Monday and yesterday morning, and 5,000 last week. Bhutto was placed under house arrest for a week.

Kim Barker writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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