Benazir is in: let the games begin!

October 22, 2007 at 5:11 am (History, International community, Pakistan, South Asia)

As people may have been aware, Benazir Bhutto recently returned to Pakistan after years in self-imposed exile.

People who may have been following events in Pakistan may be asking themselves: considering that Bhutto has not been whisked away by Pakistani governmental forces nor has been imprisoned nor threatened to be imprisoned, why was Nawaz Sharif, who also eventlt returned from exile, expelled from the country. I’m glad you asked (even though you didn’t).

Nawaz Sharif was exiled by the Pakistani government and so may not return until that sentence has been served. Nawaz’s exile was imposed on him; he had no choice. On the other hand, Benazir went on her own accord and so could come back whenever she wanted. Technically. She left because the government threatened to imprison her and charge her with various charges. She would most likely be found guilty, and then have to serve a sentence. (If she is lucky: her father, who was guilty of much less, was hanged.) Successive governments either renewed that threat or did not rescind it, making her return dangerous for her. But Benazir and President General Pervaiz Musharraf made a deal by which he (and, thus, the rest of the government) would let her return and not put her up for trial. Unfair, yes, but there are reasons behind this madness.

Benazir is one of a handful of politicians who commands immense support and, importantly for Musharraf, international legitimacy. Musharraf is facing major crises of legitimacy both in Pakistan and in the international community.

Over the months (or maybe even years), Benazir changed from one of Musharraf’s staunchest opponents to someone with whom Musharraf could work with. Elements in her party in Pakistan followed suit, becoming more supportive of Musharraf, more supportive of Pakistan’s alliance and coöperation with The United States, and less accepting of the theocratic/religious coalition. In other words, of all the parties, Benazir’s is the one that would most boost Musharraf and his trajectory for Pakistan. And because the prime minister would not be a hand-picked puppet of Musharraf, the government would have more legitimacy without sacrificing its dedication to what has to be done.

(As a sidenote: it is somewhat interesting to see Benazir develop such close relations with a military ruler, considering the last one executed her father.)

This state of affairs has arisen most likely because the animosity between Nawaz and Musharraf do not come close to whatever animosity may exist between Benazir and Musharraf. Nawaz actually tried to kill Musharraf: when Musharraf hopped on a plane and flew back to Pakistan after receiving news that Nawaz had sacked him as head of the military, Nawaz refused to let Musharraf’s plane land. Due to tensions between India and Pakistan (thanks to the Kargil adventure by the Pakistani military, which was Musharraf’s idea), Musharraf could not land in India (even in emergency: the Indian government would have prosecuted him). Rather than execute a coup when he landed, he needed to execute a coup while in the air and, specifically, gain control of at least the Karachi airport. He was running out of fuel and had only minutes to succeed or his plane would crash. His men did succeed in gaining control of the Karachi airport but only in the nick of time. Nawaz was summarily arrested in the ensuing coup and charged for trying to assassinate Musharraf. Honestly, Nawaz was an idiot. And when Nawaz recently returned, he was informed he would be re-arrested and charged with other crimes. When asked to choose between standing trial and returning to exile, he chose to stand trial. The government must have misheard him because he was sent back to exile. (Supporters of Nawaz tried to reach the Supreme Court to appeal the arrest warrant used to detain him. But the government determined that there was a security risk around the Supreme Court and so set up barriers and roadblocks. By the time Nawaz’s supporters were able to get through, Nawaz had left Pakistani airspace on a plane back to exile in Saudi Arabia.)

Having answered your question (which you did not ask) let us deal with the consequences of recent events.

What I had thought to be impossible might occur. If she is elegible, Benazir will become the next prime minister. She has the support of her party (fractured though it may be) and of the military apparatus. This is a quid pro quo deal. Once she becomes prime minister, relations between the Pakistani government and extremists (the religious coalition, terrorists, militants, et cetera) will worsen dramatically. With the government taking a more stern stance with regard to elements disrupting the nation (namely, the religious coalition and the terrorists and extremists), violence, clashes, and attacks will become very common.

Politically, Pakistan will still remain very divided. The relations between Benazir’s party and Nawaz’s party will worsen considerably. (Until Benazir turned and began to support Musharraf, Benazir worked with Nawaz against Musharraf.) Benazir’s party will declare that democracy has returned to Pakistan. Nawaz’s group will say this is not so: there would not be any democracy until the military exits from politics, Nawaz can return and run for election, and non-democratic entities (that is, the military) stop calling the shots. Nevertheless, Musharraf’s standing will increase considerably in Pakistan and in the international community: he will be seen as legitimized by a truly democratic or popularly-elected government without undue meddling by Musharraf and the military apparatus. (Of course, this ignores the fact that almost all elections have been rigged.)

There is one crisis to get through, though. Recently, the government reelected Musharraf as president. (The president is elected by the parliament.) This vote was challenged by Musharraf’s political opponents. It went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is hostile to Musharraf and it is plausible that, regardless of what is legally sound, they will declare the vote invalid and/or Musharraf ineligible to run for president, simply to spite Musharraf. One argument against Musharraf is that the president may not be Chief of Staff at the same time. This becomes an issue now because no one dared to challenge Musharraf’s election to the presidency on these grounds. (also, until recently no one expected that the Supreme Court would rule against Musharraf.) Another is that one is not permitted to run for a third term as president. (A similar rule casts doubts as to whether Benazir may run for prime minister again: she has been prime minister twice already.) At this time, it will not matter which politician or party supports or opposes Musharraf: what matters is how the Supreme Court will rule. It is my belief that despite the convincing arguments against Musharraf and despite how tempting it might be to rule against him, the Supreme Court will uphold the vote. To rule against him will not kick him out of government. No; instead, Musharraf will simply dissolve the government and impose martial rule. And this time he might get rid of the Supreme Court somehow. In fact, martial rule would be most beneficial for Musharraf: he would not have to go through the compromises he promised to make. And he would not have to worry about idiotic parliaments or Supreme Courts getting in the way of administering the country. The religious coalition threatening to withdraw from government? Jail them all. Nawaz’s toadies causing political instability? Jail them all. Political parties demanding that he take off his uniform? Jail them all. Arrogant lawyers threatening to rule him ineligible to rule? Jail them all. And so on.

With Benazir in power, he will have to make compromises, but in the end both sides will gain much. The loser, of course, will be the Pakistani people. As usual.


1 Comment

  1. My Personal “Keep Me Up To Date On The Top News” blog » Benazir is in: let the games begin! said,

    […] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptAs people may have been aware, Benazir Bhutto recently returned to Pakistan after years in self-imposed exile. People who may have been following events in Pakistan may be asking themselves: considering that Bhutto has not been whisked … […]

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