- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

Bhutto may return

Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation, remains a popular and polarizing figure in Pakistan after nearly 10 years in the political wilderness.

Her allies call her a champion of human rights and democracy. Her opponents cite her failed administration in the 1990s and her conviction on corruption charges, which was overturned in 2001.

However, she says she is “cautiously optimistic” that her fortunes might soon change and she can return home from her self-imposed exile in London and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Mrs. Bhutto, on a private visit to Washington this week, discussed her political future during an intimate dinner at the home of Esther Coopersmith, the grand dame of diplomatic soirees.

Mrs. Bhutto confirmed that her allies in the Pakistan People’s Party have discussed her possible return with representatives of President Pervez Musharraf, the army general who seized power in a coup in 1999.

“But I must be guaranteed political space,” she said at the Wednesday evening dinner.

Mrs. Bhutto wants Gen. Musharraf to promise that she can campaign for parliament without restrictions on her movements or prohibitions on her access to the Pakistani news media. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, plans to return first to test Gen. Musharraf’s intentions. Mr. Zardari left Pakistan after serving a jail term on corruption charges.

Mrs. Bhutto said she hopes to talk with supporters in Congress during her visit and urge them to get her message to the Bush administration. She strongly endorsed President Bush’s pro-democracy message for the Middle East but said she wished he would exert some public pressure on Gen. Musharraf to restore political rights in Pakistan.

Mrs. Bhutto applauded Mr. Bush for deposing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and removing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. She said Mr. Bush’s call for democracy could have inspired the demonstrators in Lebanon to demand an end to Syrian occupation.

She dismissed suggestions that democracy is incompatible with Islam. Proponents of democracy cite Islam’s tenet of tolerance, while some fundamentalists argue that the Koran establishes Islamic law that cannot be superseded by man-made laws.

Mrs. Bhutto found no contradiction between the Koran and democracy.

“The Koran sets forth God’s laws,” she said, referring to the five principles of Islam that cite monotheism, Muhammad as the prophet of God, charity, a pilgrimage to Mecca, and daily prayers.

“God’s laws are between God and man,” she said. “Man’s laws are made between men.”

Thai protest

Ralph Boyce, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, promised to report to Washington about the kingdom’s complaint over its portrayal in the latest State Department human rights report.

Mr. Boyce was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok on Wednesday to hear the official protest that the report failed to present a complete picture about relations between the Buddhist government and Islamic rebels in the south of the country, according to Agence France-Presse.

The report said Thai authorities used excessive force in a clash last year with insurgents holed up in the Krue Se mosque in Pattani province. It also criticized Thailand for the deaths of 78 rebels detained after a violent demonstration in Tak Bai in Narathiwat province.

“The report mentioned only the Krue Se and Tak Bai incidents. It did not mention other incidents in which innocent people have been killed, which would help people reading the report to understand what happened,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow.

“The United States should explain the full situation and what caused the problem. Thailand does not discriminate between Buddhists and Muslims, and the report should have described steps taken to solve the problem. The information is not complete.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]


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