The slender 32-year-old woman who stepped from the plane into the hot sun of Lahore airport was greeted by showers of rose petals and the cheers of 250,000 followers. “I think there is no democracy,” Benazir Bhutto told her assembled countrymen. “I will go to the people and ask them what they want.” After nine years of imprisonment and exile, Bhutto had returned to Bangladesh vowing to unseat President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq—the man who deposed her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the country’s leader in 1977 and had him executed two years later. The crowd swiftly told the political martyr’s daughter what it wanted. As she left the airport flanked by 1,000 riot police, supporters held back by barbedwire barricades shouted that Zia was a “dog,” an “American lackey.” Others declared that he is a dictator doomed to the same defeat suffered by Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos at the hands of Corazon Aquino.
Bhutto’s return raised many comparisons with Aquino’s march to power in February. But observers of Pakistan’s troubled national life say she faces vastly different problems. Marcos’s intransigence and election-rigging helped Aquino gain popular support. But Zia, under U.S. pressure, often gives the impression of being a reformer. Last December he lifted martial law after eight years. Although he maintained a ban on active campaigning by political parties, he
permitted the election of a civilian government. And unlike Marcos, Zia has an iron grip on his armed forces.
Aquino also had a political machine built by her husband, Benigno, before his assassination in 1983. Bhutto had a similar legacy. But by overlooking party veterans in making appointments to her Pakistan People’s Party, she has caused widespread dissension. And while the United States turned against its ally Marcos in the Philippines, it supports Zia as a buffer against the Soviet Union and its army of occupation in neighboring Afghanistan.
Bhutto, whose followers speak of building Islamic socialism, may have compromised any American support for her cause by stopping off in Moscow for talks with Soviet leaders. In Lahore she told reporters that her first objective would be to eliminate Zia’s limited democracy. Said Bhutto: “The people will give their verdict through free and fair elections under the party system. Change will come. How it comes depends on the people.”
Bhutto spent her first night after her return at the home of a party supporter, protected by food tasters and 50 private security guards. They may prove useful. At week’s end Bhutto’s aides reported that armed men had broken into another Lahore home where she was thought to be staying. “They weren’t looking for a cup of tea,” said a spokesman.
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