LAHORE (Reuters) – Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is betraying Pakistan by not joining an election boycott that cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said on Saturday was key to ousting President Pervez Musharraf.
Bhutto says she is still open to the possibility of joining an array of opposition parties shunning January’s general election to protest Musharraf’s emergency rule and purging of the Supreme Court to safeguard his presidency.
But she has also kicked into campaign mode, unveiling a manifesto on Friday that woos the poor with promises of jobs, housing and healthcare, and analysts expect her to run.
“It is a complete case of betrayal,” Khan told Reuters in an interview after addressing chanting lawyers in the eastern city of Lahore furious at the removal of the Supreme Court bench.
“Every day she says there is pre-poll rigging, every day she says there can’t be free and fair elections. She says she doesn’t trust the caretakers, she says the emergency is illegal…And yet she is participating and legitimizing the whole process.”
Opponents of Musharraf say they can discredit the vote if they unite in a wholesale boycott but distrust prevents them cooperating. Some calculate they might exert more pressure on Musharraf by besting his political allies in parliament.
Khan’s own party Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice), is small, but he has joined opposition leaders, including two-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in pushing for a boycott.
His party has not registered to run in the election while Sharif’s and Bhutto’s have.
“We want the whole (election) process to be discredited,” Khan added. “To participate…is just playing on his pitch to save him. We are just giving him a lifeline.”
Khan led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup and founded his own party with Islamic overtones a decade ago. He said the boycott would isolate Musharraf and edge him from power.
“If all the opposition got together today, the elections would be discredited, then he’s gone, because he’s no longer head of the army. He’s gone! So then we have free and fair elections and hope for the future.”
Khan was among thousands of opponents and lawyers Musharraf rounded up and detained after he imposed emergency rule on November3. He escaped initial house arrest and was then caught after a failed bid to start a student uprising.
He was charged under anti-terror laws, but laughs it off.
“There’s a law of the jungle here!” he said.
Khan says President George W. Bush’s backing for Musharraf, regarded as a valued U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, is compounding Pakistan’s problems.
“If they do not ask for the reinstatement of the judges, they are playing Musharraf’s game. Basically the impression is George Bush’s administration does not want an independent judiciary, because then they won’t be able to control the government like a puppet supposedly to fight their war on terror.”
“This movement eventually will turn against the U.S. too, like the Iranian revolution.”