| A supporter of Benazir Bhutto during a protest rally in Karachi. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Sept. 2 (Reuters): Opponents of Pakistan’s military government denounced today the rejection of Opposition leader in exile Benazir Bhutto as an election candidate and warned it could cause instability.
Bhutto herself delayed plans to return from more than three years in exile after her final poll nominations were rejected in Pakistan’s Sindh province yesterday and flew instead to Dubai from London to spend time with her family.
Election officials rejected the nominations, citing her July conviction for failing to answer corruption charges. She faces arrest in Pakistan if she returns.
The rulings are subject to an appeals process lasting until September 12, but appeared virtually to extinguish already dim prospects of Bhutto contesting the October 10 elections being organised by Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s military government.
Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, the main alliance of non-Muslim groups, denounced the rulings as “a sheer violation of the law of the land”.
He said the government had introduced laws specifically to bar Bhutto and to prolong a “presidential dictatorship”.
Farhatullah Babar, spokesman for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, said it would appeal the decisions and stressed the party was sticking to its plans to contest the election.
Bhutto said on Friday she would consider returning to Pakistan, despite the threat of arrest, if one of her nominations was accepted.
Her spokesman in London, Bashir Riaz, said her plans now depended on the outcome of the appeals and a hearing on a petition she has filed against laws barring her from the polls, to be heard in Karachi on September 11.
“She cannot make any decision until these decisions are known from the court and the election commission,” Riaz said. “So her immediate return is postponed.” Riaz said Bhutto intended to “try every legal avenue” to fight efforts to prevent her running in the elections.
“The PPP will definitely be participating in the election, whatever the circumstances. There is no question of boycotting.” Babar said Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, was treading a dangerous path.
“Musharraf has alienated all the major significant political players. The bureaucracy has been alienated, the political parties, the religious parties and the Jihadi organisations, which until September 11 were supported by the security establishment.
“All other forces that were previously with him are against him. They are all on the other side. This is a very dangerous situation because it pits the army against the people.”
The Islamic groups, traditional allies of the military, have been incensed by Musharraf’s decision to back the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.
Among the unlikely alliances prompted by Musharraf’s assault on the Opposition is that of Bhutto and another former premier in exile threatened with arrest if he returns, Nawaz Sharif.