Bhutto, Sharif vow to return to Pakistan
May 20, 2007 - 12:18:56 PM

London, May 20 - In a challenge to President Pervez Musharraf who has vowed not to allow Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan, the former prime minister has declared: 'No matter what, I'm going back this year.'

Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who lives in Saudi Arabia in exile, has also stated that he too will return to Pakistan this year, even if it meant risking possible arrest and imprisonment.

Making it clear that she will campaign against Musharraf during elections later this year, Bhutto claimed that Musharraf was running a 'dictatorship' that could end either peacefully or in all-out bloodshed.

Bhutto, 53, faces arrest if she returns to Pakistan as she is facing charges of corruption. She claimed that if she was arrested it would backfire and give a propaganda tool to her Pakistan People's Party.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Bhutto said: 'It is unlikely that the international community or the armed forces will continue to back the present regime if domestic protests continue to escalate.

'The only option for Musharraf and his regime is to seek a political solution through a negotiated transfer of power.'

Asked if talks with Musharraf had taken place, Bhutto replied: 'It is inappropriate to talk of back-channel contacts against the background of the Karachi killings.'

Several people were killed in violence in Karachi last week during protests over the suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

Bhutto said that Musharraf had allowed 'the shadow of extremism' to fall on Pakistan, and that fundamentalist madrassas had stepped in where the state had failed.

She said: 'Dictatorships by their nature are unrepresentative, they neglect the social needs of the people. The political madrassas exploit the neglect of governance, offering food, clothing, shelter and education to the children of the poor.

'They then brainwash these students and use them as fodder in their grand design to dismantle the state by infiltrating key institutions, establishing terror groups and establishing a parallel state structure.'

She alleged that Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 after ousting Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup, had lost the confidence of his fellow army officers, whose backing is considered essential for any Pakistani leader.

She said: 'It's best for the regime to call a round-table conference of all political leaders, including the exiled prime ministers, to evolve a consensus for transparent elections.'

Nawaz Sharif also told the newspaper that that he too was planning to return to Pakistan. He too faces corruption charges.

He said: 'The iron is hot, but after a few weeks or months it will start melting and I will go when it starts melting. He can put the handcuffs - if he wants - he put me in jail for 14 months before.'

He alleged that parliamentary democracy had been reduced to 'rubber stamping' Musharraf's decrees. Stating that parliamentary democracy needed to be restored, Sharif warned that Musharraf might attempt to rig the November election.

'He cannot afford free and fair polls because he cannot survive under them,' he added.

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