US non-committal over Bhutto's return to Pak

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Washington, Sept 15: The Bush Administration has struck a non-committal note on former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto's reported decision to return home next month, insisting ''this is a matter for the Pakistanis to deal with.'' Talking to newsmen yesterday, US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack, however, said, ''I personally am not aware of any legal barriers to her return. I think you'd have to check with Pakistani authorities and check with her party.''

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) announced in Islamabad yesterday that its leader Benazir Bhutto would end eight years of self-exile and return home on October 18.

''We've seen the announcement. I don't think that we've been able to confirm the fact that she is going to be returning on that date,'' McCormack said.

The Spokesman said, ''our view, very generally, is that we are not in the business of picking candidates, we are not in the business of favouring parties. We have an interest, obviously, in seeing Pakistani democracy move forward and progress. Part of that is having free, fair, and open transparent elections. We have talked to the Pakistanis about that. We've been very plain about that in public.''

With regards to the particular issue Bhutto's reported announcement to return to Pakistan, he said, ''you'd probably have to talk to her camp to see if that is, in fact, true and check to see if there are any legal questions, legal barriers that may impede her return. I am not aware of any.'' When his attention was drawn to the treatment meted out to another former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on his return to Islamabad, McCormack said, ''I'm not sure the two cases would be equivalent. I think they're very, very different circumstances there.''


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