Doubts Rise Over Pakistani Vote
Allegations of plots against the government may be preparation for postponement of elections
LAHORE, PAKISTAN — PAKISTAN'S caretaker government has accused the Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of conspiring to sabotage this month's elections. According to Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, the interim prime minister, evidence has been found that a number of ``terrorists'' belonging to the Al Zulfikar group had infiltrated the country from India with a view to disrupt the election process. Mr. Jatoi said he believed the underground movement was still headed by Murtaza Bhutto, Ms. Bhutto's younger brother.
Military officials say the objective of the conspirators was to set off a series of explosions and murder political figures. About 70 people have been arrested in the provinces of Sind and Baluchistan, a number of whom were carrying identity cards signed by Mr. Bhutto, the officials say.
Jatoi told newsmen recently that the Zulfikar group was a very active organization that had direct links with the PPP.
The suspected terrorists are to be charged with ``waging war against the state,'' military officials say.
PPP officials say the Army has regularly resurrected the threat of the Zulfikar movement when it has felt the necessity. Pakistan has been ruled by the armed forces for 25 years of its 43-year history.
``It's an old bogey which they have tried to pin on us about for the last 11 years of martial law,'' said Shehnaz Wazar Ali, the former deputy education minister in Bhutto's government. ``It's all hogwash intended to postpone elections and rob the people of their verdict.''
In the early 1980s, the Zulfikar movement spearheaded a resistance movement against the martial law regime of the late President Zia ul-Haq. The organization reportedly carried out a number of murders, three assassination attempts against General Zia, and a hijacking in 1981.
The alleged Zulfikar conspiracy coincides with a number of other threats to the country, say officials of the government and the armed forces. In the last week, there have been a series of press reports claiming that India is moving its troops closer to the border, out of their peacetime locations, and that Soviet troops have committed a minor aggression on Pakistani territory.
The accumulation of conspiracy rumors is leading some commentators to speculate that the ground is being prepared for a postponement of the Oct. 24 National Assembly elections.
CAUTIONARY government statements are coming out just as many political analysts are making positive reevalutations of Bhutto's chances of electoral success. Bhutto's 20-month-old government was dismissed Aug. 6 on charges of gross misconduct and corruption. But local news media reports suggest that legal proceedings against the PPP leader have backfired.
PPP aides to Bhutto say a wave of sympathy for her is growing.
According to Pakistani press reports quoting Army spokesmen, the Indian Army is moving up troops on the southern Punjab border and the situation in divided Kashmir is intensifying into daily exchanges of heavy artillery. In a recent promotions ceremony, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan told several hundred soldiers and senior officers to be vigilant about the Indian threat.
The latest plot to emerge is allegedly a Soviet one. According to Pakistani press reports quoting one of the country's Islamic fundamentalist leaders, Prof. Ghafoor Ahmed, Soviet troops have taken some hills near to the border town of Chitral, just south of the empty, but strategic area known as the Wakkan corridor. Mr. Ahmed also claims that Soviet missiles have also been deployed overlooking the Silk Road, the vital highway to China.
Jatoi says he is checking into the reports, but that, according to the Foreign Ministry, the allegations are baseless.
In a news conference in Islamabad, Jatoi alluded to ``external forces'' and the conspiracy at home, but said that he hoped the elections could take place as scheduled.
``God forbid external factors should prevent us from going ahead,'' he said. ``Still, we feel, we hope, and expect that the election process will be allowed to continue undisturbed.''
Twelve of the country's top generals are to meet in Lahore Oct. 10 and 11, supposedly for a routine meeting. However, there is widespread speculation that the military leadership will discuss the implications of the alleged conspiracies on the domestic political scene.