ISLAMABAD Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto’s political party said Monday it may work with Pakistan’s president after elections next month despite the leader’s apparent unpopularity and allegations elements within his government may have played a role in her death.
The comments highlight the fluid nature of Pakistani politics ahead of the polls, which the United States and other Western nations hope will usher in a period of stability as the country battles rising attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban militants.
Bhutto’s party and the other main opposition grouping have intensified their calls for President Pervez Musharraf to resign since Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and suicide bomb attack on Dec. 27 as she left a campaign rally.
But a spokesman for Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party said “all options are open” when asked whether it would cooperate with Musharraf.
“These are bridges which we will cross when they come,” Farhatullah Babar said, echoing remarks reported in Pakistani media by Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now the de-facto head of the party.
Many analysts predict any cooperation between Musharraf and Bhutto’s party would be short-lived and unstable, given likely opposition by the group’s rank and file. But it would represent a matchup of secular, moderate forces and, as such, could be welcomed by the United States and other Western nations.
Bhutto’s party and the other major opposition grouping are expected to do well in the Feb. 18 parliamentary polls, but few analysts expect a single party will gain a majority. Opposition parties holding more than two-thirds of the seats can impeach the president, but this outcome is also seen as unlikely.
Fears of widespread vote-rigging have also led to speculation that the parties may not accept the results, triggering political turmoil and possible street violence.
The polls, delayed for six weeks amid rioting triggered by the former prime minister’s assassination, are seen as a key step in Pakistan’s transition to democracy.
An opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute late last year found 72 percent of respondents opposed Musharraf’s recent re-election to the presidency by the old parliament for a new five-year term.
Bhutto was a secular politician popular in the U.S. and other Western countries for her opposition to hard-line Islam. The government has blamed her death on a prominent Taliban commander who had reportedly threatened to kill her.
But her political party and family members have accused the government of failing to provide her with sufficient security. Some have made vague allegations that elements within the government may have been involved.