Robert Novak

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the leader of Musharraf's Muslim League-Q party, last week said Bhutto and her husband arranged the Oct. 18 attack to stir up public sympathy. That Bhutto was unhurt, he claimed, lends credence to that theory (though she actually was protected because of an elevated vehicle permitting crowds to see her).

The government has banned mass meetings, purportedly in the interest of public safety. But prohibiting political rallies saves the Muslim League-Q from an embarrassing exhibition of its scant public support and perhaps would enable a rigging of parliamentary elections to prevent a major PPP victory. Bhutto will campaign anyway and plans a trip to Islamabad.

Bhutto's security experts see her safer in Islamabad than in Karachi, saying she can be protected there. Still, one adviser has warned her that the Karachi attack will be resumed in Islamabad. When I interviewed Bhutto in New York in August, I asked whether she thought she might be killed if she returned to Pakistan. She answered by saying she must return. She gives the impression that being in danger is her fate.

Musharraf must know Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos sealed his political doom in 1983 when his associates conspired to murder political rival Benigno Acquino upon his return from exile. Without complicity in the assassination attempt, however, Musharraf has permitted subordinates to take a hostile stance toward Bhutto the last two weeks. He actually needs Bhutto because of her popularity with the people, as she needs him to neutralize the army.

Last Thursday, one week after she was nearly killed, Bhutto assailed the madrasahs, the Islamic schools in Pakistan that are breeding grounds for terrorism. "These political madrasahs preach hatred and churn out brainwashed robots that become arsenals of weapons of violating the constitution of Pakistan," she said. Musharraf has never dared to say anything like that. But the U.S. government, as matchmaker between Bhutto and Musharraf, is cautious about publicly taking sides in Pakistan's crisis.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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