Resilient South Asia Politician Positions For a Comeback

Bhutto would carry heavy political baggage in try to lead Pakistan again.

Beneazir Bhutto appears to be hoping the third time will be the charm.

Ousted twice as prime minister of Pakistan, Ms. Bhutto will address a rally Feb. 26 that is being seen by analysts and members of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) as a kickoff to a third try at leading the country.

Bhutto's gathering will be in Faisalabad, an industrial city with an estimated blue-collar work force of more than 1 million near Lahore, south of the capital, Islamabad. It would be a good location from which to confront Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his increasingly controversial economic policies. Mr. Sharif favors large-scale privatization of government-owned companies, which many say will inevitably mean job losses.

Since September, for example, almost 20,000 employees at Pakistan's three largest public-sector banks (Habib, United, and National) have been laid off.

The rally also would be an opportunity for Bhutto to try to persuade Pakistanis that corruption charges against her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, are false.

"I don't have any ill-gotten money, such allegations are blatant lies," she said in a recent interview with the Monitor. "My enemies are obsessed with usurping power and keeping me out. They are neglecting the economy and the real issues," she added.

Bhutto was sacked by Pakistan's president in November 1996 after allegations that her husband, Mr. Zardari, who was serving as environment minister, had amassed a fortune through kickbacks on government contracts during Bhutto's three years as prime minister.

Sharif's government accuses Zardari of stashing millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts and buying properties in Europe and the United States. Zardari has denied the allegations.

Bhutto's career has seen many ups and downs since Pakistan's return to civilian democracy in 1988. She has been elected prime minister twice, only to see herself removed under Pakistan's Constitution on charges of corruption.

Zardari has also been accused of involvement in the murder of Bhutto's brother, Murtaza, who was killed by police in Karachi in September 1996. The trial is continuing at a court in Karachi, Pakistan's southern port city, where Zardari is in jail.

"Instead of concentrating on issues that affect the average Pakistani, [the Sharif government is] instead focussing on large projects like motorways," Bhutto told the Monitor. The first such road runs from Sharif's hometown, Lahore, to Islamabad, and opened in November. Construction of another from Islamabad to the northern city of Peshawar was ordered recently.

Independent analysts see a rough political road ahead for Bhutto. "As long as Zardari's 'dark shadow' surrounds her, Benazir Bhutto will not make a comeback," says Ghazi Salahuddin, a leading political commentator. "Bhutto will have a credibility problem because of the corruption allegations surrounding her own government. Many Pakistanis are convinced of those stories."

Some PPP leaders say she must tell Pakistanis that if she regains power, Zardari will not be in her Cabinet.

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