Islamabad: US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday for talks with President Pervez Musharraf, two days after the government blocked former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's return from exile.
The summary way in which Sharif was dispatched back into exile, despite having clearance from Pakistan's Supreme Court to return, reinforced perceptions US ally Musharraf's grip on power was becoming more desperate with elections looming.
"Certainly, I think it's added to the troubles that General Musharraf's regime faces," Benazir Bhutto, another former prime minister living in exile, told Indian news channel Times Now.
"I wouldn't like any incident being used now as a pretext to try and defer those polls," said Bhutto, who has been in negotiations with Musharraf to form a power sharing arrangement after a general election due by the end of the year.
Bhutto said plans for her own return to Pakistan will be announced on Friday.
Though Negroponte is here for a long-term strategic dialogue with Pakistani officials, the short-term uncertainties in Pakistan will weigh on US policy-makers' minds.
Musharraf is likely to face constitutional challenges in a Supreme Court seen as hostile to the general since his unsuccessful attempt to oust its top judge in March.
Sharif's supporters have also filed a petition with the Supreme Court saying he had been illegally deported.
Sharif's nephew, Hamza Shahbaz, told Reuters he spoke to his uncle on Tuesday, and denied the official version that Sharif had voluntarily opted to go to Saudi Arabia after being confronted with fresh graft charges and the prospect of prison.
"He has strongly denied that he left Pakistan willingly. He was forcibly sent to Saudi Arabia," Shahbaz said, adding that Sharif's wife, Kulsoom, was considering returning to Pakistan in defiance of Musharraf.