NEW YORK — Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto acknowledged in an interview Thursday that she has met secretly with President Gen. Musharraf, but said she was increasingly pessimistic about reaching a power-sharing deal with the leader.
She told CNN that she and Musharraf have "had an opportunity to meet, we've had a good rapport, a good exchange of ideas, but there are people around him who don't want this understanding, who don't want him to make the political concessions that are necessary to facilitate the path towards democracy."
Bhutto plans to return next month from self-exile to challenge Musharraf, who is seeking another term in presidential elections. She has threatened to withdraw her lawmakers from Parliament if Musharraf does not compromise, for instance by lifting a ban on her serving a third term as prime minister.
Asked if she had met secretly with Musharraf, Bhutto said, "Well, we were supposed to keep it secret, but it's kind of an open secret now."
"I had asked him to take some steps for fair elections. These remain unimplemented," she said. "So, now I worry. I worry that time is running out."
In July, Pakistan's minister for railways said Musharraf and Bhutto met in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi.
In response to opposition demands, Musharraf has pledged to step down as military chief and restore civilian rule if lawmakers approve a fresh mandate Oct. 6.
Musharraf has seen his power erode since his botched effort to fire the Supreme Court's chief justice earlier this year. His administration is also struggling to contain a surge in Islamic militancy.
Bhutto also said she had asked Musharraf to provide "me with the security that I'm entitled to as a former prime minister" when she returns from exile Oct. 18.
One of Bhutto's rivals, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was swiftly sent to Saudi Arabia when he tried to return to Pakistan two weeks ago. Bhutto said she did not believe she would be deported, though she has received no assurances from Musharraf.