A leading opposition politician on Wednesday accused President Pervez Musharraf of planning to rig next week's elections, describing it as a move that could trigger uncontrollable unrest and tear Pakistan apart.
Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also said that U.S. support for Musharraf was deepening anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and that only democratic rule could end rising Islamic militancy.
"We stand for democracy. He stands for dictatorship," Sharif said as he traveled in his armor-plated SUV to a raucous campaign rally attended by about 7,000 supporters in the northern town of Kahuta, a hub of Pakistan's nuclear program. "In order to survive, he has to rig the election. He knows that."
Musharraf maintains that he wants to oversee a transfer to full democracy. His presidency is not being contested when Pakistanis vote Monday for a new Parliament. But a convincing opposition win - as forecast in recent polls - could leave him vulnerable to impeachment, eight years after he toppled Sharif in a military coup.
Sharif accused the government of buying votes and readying 1.8-million postal ballots to be cast in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q party - allegations denied by officials - and warned that if the ruling party won, it would lead to "uncontrollable" unrest.
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have agreed to launch joint street protests if they deem the election to have been rigged. On Tuesday, opposition leaders signaled their intent to form a coalition government if they win a majority.
Campaigning through his native Punjab - a province accounting for over half of the parliamentary seats - Sharif said he wanted to negotiate with militants rather than use military force to tackle the extremist violence sweeping across Pakistan from its borderlands near Afghanistan.
"We need to engage all the elements who in our opinion should be engaged. We have done it in the past. We must try to win them over and I think we can do that without using any military," he said.
Sharif also said he wanted good relations with the United States if he came to power, but he was bluntly critical of President Bush's policy toward Pakistan.
"The Bush administration's approach to support one man and equate Musharraf with Pakistan is not being perceived well in this country. It has given rise to anti-American feelings," he said.