Benazir Bhutto Tests Her Clout

KARACHI, PAKISTAN--Pakistan's mainstream political parties have so far failed to offer much substantial resistance to the imposition of emergency rule, with the military regime largely successful at keeping the opposition parties divided. But Pakistani political analysts believe that the situation could change in the coming days as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, perhaps the country's most popular opposition leader, appears to be losing patience with Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency powers and suspension of the Constitution.

Bhutto, who in recent months had been negotiating a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf, has now come out and threatened the Pakistani strongman with a "long march" next week if he doesn't revoke emergency rule and reinstate the sacked judges of the superior courts.

For the first time, Bhutto moved beyond her condemnation of the emergency rule to also explicitly condemn Musharraf's ouster of top Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice. "If General Musharraf does not lift the emergency rule and reinstate the deposed judges by Friday, I will go to Lahore and lead a march on the federal capital on November 13," she told a news conference. "Now, the ball is in his court. If he wants to open the door for negotiations, he must restore the Constitution, retire as chief of Army staff, and announce the elections schedule."

But there are some signs that U.S. officials are urging Bhutto to be patient with her challenge to Musharraf. A source in Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party says that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been playing a pivotal role in encouraging a political deal between Musharraf and Bhutto, asked Bhutto to "give some more time" to Musharraf.

Members of Bhutto's PPP have begun to protest in several Pakistani cities, and while police fired tear gas to disperse several demonstrations, the tactics appeared to be more gentle than those used against protests by the country's lawyers. "I was astonished to see that tear gas shells were fired either in the air or here and there," says Siddique Sajid, an Islamabad-based journalist who witnessed a PPP protest. "Otherwise, the security forces hurl the shells directly on opposition activists."

A top Pakistani police official tells U.S. News that the police have been ordered not to come down too hard on Bhutto's supporters.

By Aamir Latif and Kevin Whitelaw