WASHINGTON – Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who’s pledged to end her 10-year exile next month in hopes of returning to power, said Tuesday that the Bush administration had made a mistake by believing that the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf was the best choice for fighting terrorism.
Bhutto said extremism had grown under Musharraf, whose government has received more than $10 billion in U.S. aid since Sept. 11 in return for help in fighting al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida and its allies from Afghanistan’s deposed Taliban government now control large sections of Pakistan’s tribal areas, she said.
“General Musharraf is trying to convince the world he’s the only one standing in the way of an extremist takeover of nuclear-armed Pakistan. In fact, military rule is a cause of the anarchic situation in Pakistan,” she said.
The Middle East Institute, a Washington research center, had invited her to speak.
Her speech seemed to be an attempt to cast herself as a better hope for the U.S. goal of crushing al-Qaida. She said the idea that a military could deal with extremists better than a democracy is a “strategic miscalculation.”
“Military rule is the cause” of extremism, she said, “not the solution.”
The Pakistani Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next few days on whether Musharraf is eligible to seek re-election. Lawmakers select the next president in October.
Pakistan has been roiled since May by political tension and violence that began with riots after Musharraf removed a Supreme Court justice and peaked in July when the army stormed a major mosque in Islamabad, killing its controversial imam and perhaps as many as 75 of his supporters.
In recent weeks, Musharraf has been detaining opposition leaders, something Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday called “troubling.”
Earlier this month his government deported another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, when he tried to return from exile.
Bhutto said she’d return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 to begin organizing for January parliamentary elections and expected to be greeted by joyful crowds. She said the government’s reaction was unknown.
“I do not know what awaits me,” she said, “but in any case, I am returning home.”