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Bhutto spits fire but bridge still not burnt

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 5.11.07
Benazir in Karachi. (AFP)

Karachi, Nov. 4 (Agencies): A proposed power-sharing deal with Pervez Musharraf almost in tatters, Benazir Bhutto joined Opposition leaders in lambasting the emergency but left her options open.

“Today is the blackest day in the history of Pakistan,” the former Prime Minister said late last night, calling the decision tantamount to dictatorship.

“This is not an emergency but martial law, because General Pervez Musharraf imposed it as chief of army staff, not as a civilian President. We oppose this strongly and will not accept this situation,” she added.

Benazir, whose recent return to Pakistan following eight years in exile was shattered by suicide bombers, flew in from the United Arab Emirates where she was visiting her family.

She left the Karachi airport under police escort — her house was surrounded by paramilitary troops — and held a hastily arranged news conference.

Analysts said by declaring the state of emergency, Musharraf has not only torn up “the understanding” with Benazir but also transformed her again into Pakistan’s hope for democracy.

Her only option now is to take the general head-on as she did the last dictator, General Zia-ul Haq, 20 years ago, the analysts added.

But she did not directly answer a question on whether she would still consider forming an alliance with Musharraf — said to have been a condition for her return from exile. He, in turn, agreed to drop past corruption charges against her.

“He broke his promises and we would like him to undo the action; if he does not undo it, then I’m afraid he is simply opening one more front that does not need to be opened at this time,” she told Sky TV over telephone.

Benazir, who was the Muslim world’s first female Prime Minister, is respected in the West for her liberal views and tough rhetoric on fighting al Qaida and Taliban. She is seen as an anti-terror ally for Musharraf if her party fares well in parliamentary elections that are due by January.

The former Prime Minister, who was welcomed at the airport last night by hundreds of journalists and chanting supporters, said she agreed with Musharraf that political turmoil and a rise in Islamic militancy had put the nation in grave danger.

“I totally agree that extremism and terrorism is on the rise,” she told Sky TV.

“This is why the militants and the extremists targeted my homecoming ride. The extremists fear democracy, they feel the power of the people.”

More than 140 people were killed when suicide bombers attacked her October 18 homecoming parade, the deadliest suicide attack in Pakistan’s history. Islamic militants have also expanded their control from the northwestern border with Afghanistan to regions inland, including the scenic Swat valley, which in the past drew tourists from all over the world.

But Benazir said dictatorship was not the answer. “The militants need the dictatorship,” she said. “They feed off each other.”

Other Opposition leaders also blasted Musharraf’s decision. Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged all Pakistanis and political parties, including that of his rival Benazir, to come together to oppose the decision.

“I think we are heading towards chaos,” he told Geo TV from Saudi Arabia, where he is in exile.