US paved the way for Bhutto's return to Pakistan

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Washington, Dec 28 (UNI) Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before she flew home in October.

The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy -- and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism, reported Washington Post.

The daily says it was a stunning turnaround for Bhutto who was forced from power in 1996 amid corruption charges. She was suddenly visiting top State Department officials, dining with UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and conferring with members of the National Security Council.

As President Pervez Musharraf's political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.

''The US came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability, but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact,'' the daily quotes Mark Siegel having said.

He lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

The diplomacy that ended abruptly with Bhutto's assassination yesterday was always an enormous gamble, the daily says quoting current and former US policymakers, intelligence officials and outside analysts.

By entering into the legendary ''Great Game'' of South Asia, the United States also made its goals and allies more vulnerable -- in a country in which more than 70 per cent of the population already looked unfavorably upon Washington, it says.

The daily quotes some experts saying that Bhutto's assassination leaves Pakistan's future -- and Musharraf's -- in doubt.

''US policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto's participation in elections to legitimize Musharraf's continued power as president,'' said Barnett R Rubin of New York University.

''Now President Musharraf is finished,'' he remarked.

UNI

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