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Bhutto Stakes Her Future on Power-Sharing Deal

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is staking her future on a power-sharing deal with a military ruler she hopes can help restore her family's name to center stage in the nation's political arena.

Bhutto — whose father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged after being deposed as prime minister by a previous military regime — is urging President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to step down as head of the army and drop corruption charges against her so she can return from exile and contest parliamentary elections.

In return, the U.S.-allied Musharraf gets to stay on for another five years as a powerful civilian president.

But joining hands with the unpopular general could cost the liberal opposition leader support and turn her audacious bid to win a third term as prime minister into a political suicide.

"For the first time in the history of Pakistan, from one end to the other end of Pakistan, there's complete unanimity: No more dictatorship," Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a senior politician who has broken with Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party over her talks with Musharraf, told The Associated Press.

"Now, Benazir stands up and says, 'Stay, Musharraf, stay!' ... That is something which is a nightmare for the people of Pakistan," he said.

Bhutto rejects that criticism.

She and Musharraf also argue that joining forces will strengthen Pakistan's efforts to combat extremism and prevent the kind of political chaos that could prompt another burst of martial law.

"I am trying to convince (party colleagues) that the international community and the armed forces have confidence in Musharraf, and therefore we need to work out a solution" with him, she told The Washington Post recently.

But friends and foes warn that eight years of living abroad has left Bhutto out of touch with public sentiment.

Khar accused her of betraying her party's values by reaching out to a man who toppled Pakistan's last civilian government and has lost public support at home and abroad for recently trying to fire the country's top judge.

Khar was a close colleague of her father, who was hanged on murder charges in 1979 after his ouster in an earlier military coup.

By entering talks with Musharraf, Bhutto has offended the party's "long history of struggle against dictatorship," Khar said.

"This is one thing that I have not even visualized or dreamt," he said.

Bhutto was prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to '96. She was dismissed both times over allegations of corruption and mismanagement. In exile since 1999, she has led the Pakistan People's Party from London and Dubai.

Wary that Musharraf could revive the corruption cases she fled, Bhutto also wants him to drop charges against her and scores of other politicians, including Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and fierce rival plotting a comeback.

Sharif said Thursday he will return to Pakistan on Sept. 10 after seven years away.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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