ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Allies of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf opposed to sharing power with exiled former leader Benazir Bhutto are pushing Pakistan toward anarchy, Bhutto said Sunday.
The warning that a nuclear-armed country beset by Islamic militants could be heading for turmoil comes after some supporters of the U.S.-allied general urged him to ride out legal problems dogging his re-election bid.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Bhutto said that group was advising Musharraf to contest a presidential election due by Oct. 15 without stepping down as army chief.
"We all know that any election in uniform would be illegal. But they prefer to play with the Constitution and create a crisis rather than have a smooth transition to democracy," Bhutto said. "Pakistan can ill afford confrontation and anarchy."
Bhutto has been in talks with Musharraf for months on a pact that would include constitutional amendments to defuse legal challenges to his re-election bid and let her return and compete in parliamentary elections due by January.
But negotiations have snagged over the reluctance of Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, to give up his sweeping powers, and dismay among his die-hard supporters that they could by eclipsed by Bhutto.
Leaders of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party have repeatedly suggested that Musharraf could declare a state of emergency to forestall chaos.
Bhutto said the government had failed to deliver a response promised in the last round of negotiations with her envoys in Dubai on Sept. 4.
She declined to forecast whether the talks would succeed, but said her party was girding for a failure which could deepen the political confrontation.
An alliance of rival opposition parties declared Sunday that their lawmakers would resign from the federal and provincial parliaments — which together elect the president — if Musharraf is a candidate.
Bhutto's liberal party has shunned the alliance, which includes the conservatives of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and pro-Taliban religious parties. But she said it was "very much an option" for her party to follow suit.
While the courts would decide the legality of Musharraf's move, mass resignations would deny him legitimacy and would likely trigger a broader movement, including street protests, she predicted.
As well as endangering the elections, that prospect "worries me because Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country that can ill afford internal instability at a time when its own armed forces are being attacked by militant troops," she said.
Bhutto, 54, plans to return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 after eight years in self-exile in Dubai and London.
Both she and Musharraf are calling for moderates to join forces to defeat extremism at a time when Taliban and al-Qaida militants appear to be gaining strength along the border with Afghanistan.
Officials have said she will not be deported like Sharif, who was sent back to exile in Saudi Arabia last week. However, they warn that she has to face corruption cases dating back to her two terms as prime minister between 1988 and 1996.
"I could be thrown into prison. I could face a situation such as the chief justice of Pakistan did when he went back to the city of Karachi" in May, when clashes with opposition activists widely blamed on a pro-government party left about 40 people dead.
"On the other hand, maybe I go back and the people are so many and they are not able to stop them and I have a good reception," she said.