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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Pak scene gets murkier

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

When he completes the eighth year of his rule in October, Gen Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan may be in no mood to celebrate it with his favourite champagne. In fact, chances are that the country may be witnessing sparkles of a different kind. The two top politicians of the country he has hated with passion, former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, are publicly baying for his blood. Irrespective of the nature of reception that Musharraf may have decide to accord them upon their return, the country is going to be enlivened in a way that can only make Musharraf uncomfortable.

The travails of Musharraf must also have disturbed his chief global patron. And hence the overdrive in Washington to help Musharraf work out a deal with Benazir that would assure him another five-year term despite his unprecedented unpopularity in his country and the widespread scepticism about his role in the war in terror in western capitals, including Washington.

If the deal with Bhutto falls through, as it well might, there is no apparent plan B in Washington where Musharraf is projected as an indispensable ‘ally’ in the so-called war on terror. The US remained focused only on Musharraf even when dark clouds suddenly began to gather around him after his unwise sparring with the chief justice followed by head-on collision with the radicals holed up in an ISI-patronised mosque in Islamabad.

Musharraf thought he could wiggle out of trouble by wooing Benazir Bhutto, considered by him to be the lesser of the two (Sharif is the other one) evils. She is also a Pakistani politician who is seen as more amenable to US counsel than some other civilian leaders. But Musharraf and Bhutto looked like, as we say in India, a case of two swords trying to fit into one scabbard.

Both Musharraf and Bhutto share many mutually incompatible traits, relying on their cunning and guile to hoodwink each other. Musharraf thought the promise of withdrawing criminal charges against her would be enough to get her on his side even as he would continue to rule with his absolute powers. On her part, Benazir thought Musharraf was at his weakest and therefore it was the right time to get her wish list granted by him—the withdrawal of criminal charges against her as well as the revocation of the constitutional clause that barred a third prime ministerial term. When Musharraf appeared agreeable to meeting these two demands of her, she stretched her list by insisting that he not only doff his uniform but also give up his power to dissolve the national assembly.

The trouble with people like Musharraf and Bhutto is that they trust only their own wisdom. In reaching out to Bhutto, Musharraf did not deem it fit to consult his own party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e-Azam) that the ISI had so easily sewn for him with defections, mainly from among the ranks of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. The members of the ‘King’s Party’, the name derisively given to PML(Q), were upset that their boss was stabbing them in the back by deciding to sup with the ‘enemy’—Benazir Bhutto. A rebellion in the PML (Q) is the last thing Musharraf would want. This held up his negotiations with Bhutto when the deal was almost clinched.

Despite inheriting politics from her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by a previous military dictator, Benazir shut her eyes to the fact that any deal or association with Musharraf at this juncture would do her immense harm since there was no question that the general’s popularity had plummeted to dangerously low levels.

When the unpleasant truth about working out a deal with a sinking Musharraf became quite apparent to be ignored, Benazir Bhutto too decided to rethink the terms of her deal with the general. Her too clever by half approach might have already upset her grandiose plans for a triumphant return from exile when she ditched Nawaz Sharif midway through after first showing willingness to join him in a common move against Musharraf. She also detached herself from the All-Party Alliance for Democracy (ARD).

Nawaz Sharif began to look like the chief beneficiary of the anti-Musharraf wave in Pakistan when Bhutto was building castles to reap the major benefit from it. He pre-empted her by announcing an early date of his return to Pakistan while she continued to toy with that idea, chiefly on account of her duplicitous approach to the question of an agreement with Musharraf. He stands to gain more even if Musharraf arrests him on his return or succeeds in the more difficult task of sending him back to another country (Saudi Arabia?) from the airport.

Now Benazir Bhutto seems to be playing her last card. She is angry with the general but she would still not criticise him openly lest it seals her chances of working out some deal with him. The longer she takes to make up her mind on the question of supporting Musharraf the wider the extent of harm that she will suffer politically.

Though the PPP that she heads is supposed to have a countrywide following, it is basically a party that thrives on support from the Sindh province. The more populous province of Punjab is with Sharif though it also is a stomping ground of the parties led by religious zealots and fanatics who already rule in the other two provinces, Balochistan and NWFP. Sharif will not worry about the parties run by the Mullahs since he has no qualms about hugging them.

Predicting the turn that politics might take tomorrow is a game for the brave hearts. But it looks almost certain that while Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto are finding to difficult to tango, Sharif has emerged as a powerful common adversary of both. The outcome in a triangular fight can be disconcerting and that may not be to the liking of the General and his overseas patrons.

- Syndicate Features -

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