Benazir Bhutto said Friday that if she had ordered it, the crowd of several hundred thousand that greeted her political return here “could have brought down” the government of President Zia ul-Haq.
“The crowd in Lahore could have burned down the assemblies. It could have burned down the cantonment (military camp). It could have burned down the houses of the ministers,” said Bhutto, 33, acting chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party founded by her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was overthrown as prime minister by the military in 1977 and executed two years later.
“The crowd was so responsive it would have done anything that I or my party directed,” she said of the huge crowd of frenzied supporters who greeted her Thursday on her return from exile in London and staged the largest anti-government demonstration in Pakistan history.
She said she did not resort to violence in her goal of removing Zia, who led the coup against her father and supervised his execution by hanging, because “the cost would have been too high for my party because my party does not believe in violence.”
Earlier Rallies Quelled
The huge crowds that greeted Bhutto on Thursday were evocative of the mass agitational politics that existed here during the final years of her father’s government. Until Thursday, Zia had managed to quell large civilian demonstrations through a series of military actions and Draconian laws, including mass jailings and public floggings.
On the surface at least, Zia government officials reacted calmly Friday to the evidence of a new populist front here. Zia himself appeared preoccupied with the visit of Maltese President Agatha Barbara.
Bhutto, who has spent most of the eight years of Zia’s rule under house arrest or in self-imposed exile, was allowed back into Pakistan as part of a general relaxation of political restrictions that Zia initiated 14 months ago with the election of a civilian government on a non-party basis.
In December, Zia lifted martial law. However, the strict Muslim leader retained the title of president and army chief of staff.
Cites Marcos Example
In her press conference here Friday, Bhutto repeated her request that Zia follow the examples of ousted leaders Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti and Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Philippines and flee the country.
“If he goes gracefully, that’s the best thing,” she said. “A lot depends on change coming peacefully and gracefully.”
However, in a gesture of political compromise, the young political leader offered to work within the framework of the existing civilian government to hold new elections. She called for the civilian prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo, to break with Zia and call the elections.
Under the new constitution established by Zia, which installs him as president and maintains his army role, new elections are not scheduled for four years. Bhutto has asked that the 1973 constitution established by her father be restored.
In contrast to the fiery oratory of her appearance at a huge rally here Thursday, the thin, Oxford- and Harvard-educated Bhutto was relatively conciliatory in her press conference, particularly in her offer to recognize “at face value” the civilian government whose election she had decried vehemently.
Role for Civilian Regime
“Because there is a civilian administration there at the moment,” she said, “then that civilian administration can be, in the national interest, used as a steppingstone for the restoration of full democracy in the country.”
Bhutto, who periodically interrupted her long press conference to issue sharp commands to her aides, said she would welcome the help of the United States in removing Zia, who enjoys the strong support of the Reagan Administration.
“Obviously, the United States gives a lot of aid to Pakistan and we are aware of their influence,” she said.
“In the last few months, the U.S. has detached itself from dictators in the Philippines and Haiti,” she added, suggesting that the Americans do the same thing with Zia in Pakistan. There was much evidence of anti-Americanism at the mass gathering Thursday, including the burning of many American flags and chants against President Reagan.
Denies Anti-U.S. Role
On Friday, however, Bhutto denied that her party had an active role in those demonstrations, suggesting instead that they were the work of government agents provocateurs trying to discredit her party.
American diplomats here have carefully avoided making comparisons between Zia and the Haitian and Philippine presidents, or with President Augusto Pinochet of Chile, another dictator whose relationship with the United States has soured.
One Western diplomat in Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, described Zia as a “benign dictator.”
The Bhutto camp had a brief scare early this morning after a man who carried papers identifying him as a retired major in the Pakistani army was captured inside the compound of a home where Bhutto had appeared the day before. Abdul Qayyum, 40, told reporters that he had come to see the political leader but had “gone out of my senses” and broken several windows in front of the home with bricks before he was restrained by servants.
“I wanted to make her (Bhutto) my lawful wedded wife,” said Qayyum, who also claimed he was already married and the father of seven children.
A Bhutto friend, Humera Jamil Aziz, said Qayyum was the same man who was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport in March after immigration authorities found several photographs of Bhutto in his luggage.
Qayyum carried a Pakistani passport with an entry stamp dated March 3 at Heathrow and another return stamp to Karachi, Pakistan a few days later.
The incident with Qayyum highlighted fears in the Bhutto following that her life is in danger here, particularly since there is little police protection.