Ms. Bhutto’s plans for the route of next week’s protest march is particularly significant: it runs more than 160 miles from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad, the heart of Punjab, the country’s largest and most powerful province.
The vast majority of the country’s army hails from Punjab, and the military has hesitated in the past to fire on civilians in the province. Widespread popular unrest there could cause senior Pakistani army commanders to turn on General Musharraf and ask him to resign, some analysts said.
Ms. Bhutto’s strategy appears to be relying on the fact that General Musharraf will back down before protests are held, or that senior army officers will decide that the president is doing so much damage to the army as an institution that they should force him to resign.
General Musharraf, in turn, could gamble that Ms. Bhutto will not be able to draw large crowds on what she called the “long march.” Lahore is not her home province, and her time in office was marred by corruption charges.
There is also widespread speculation that Ms. Bhutto, whom some have criticized for moving too slowly to begin protesting emergency rule, will strike a deal with General Musharraf. Lawyers who have carried out protests all week have questioned her commitment to fully ending military rule.
Rousing large numbers of protesters in the Punjab could demonstrate to the United States and other international observers that General Musharraf has lost domestic support. The United States, which had warned General Musharraf not to declare emergency rule, has demanded that it end immediately and that elections proceed as planned for January. Many other countries and the United Nations have also called for an end to emergency rule.
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Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician, has been in hiding since Sunday. In an email to his ex-wife, Jemima, he said yesterday he feared he would suffer retribution.
"They are using sheer force against lawyers, human rights organisations, political activists and all genuine opposition leaders are in jail," he wrote. "The police have ransacked my house and ill-treated my family members."
"I believe that the Americans are complicit, or at the very least knew about this, before it took place. They are backing Musharraf as he could never get his way if they were serious about stopping him."
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