Pakistan seems to be calming down.
Since Musharraf declared emergency measures, he has scheduled elections; his election as president has been confirmed (albeit by a Supreme Court stacked with Musharraf supporters); jailed activists and protestors have been released; Nawaz Sharif returned and is campaigning; Benazir Bhutto is campaigning; several political parties threatened to boycott the upcoming elections; most of said parties have withdrawn their boycott threat and are registering to take part in the elections. Also important, Musharraf passed on the baton of Chief of Army Staff (literally, he handed the guy a staff or baton) to to man of rural Punjabi origins (sure to elicit support from the soldiers) who is an avid golfer and a chain smoker (sign of the genteel, Westernized elite). The new Chief of Army Staff is a certain General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Musharraf has accordingly “taken off his uniform” and rules as a civilian president.
Lots of progress, and hardly the scene of chaos some were predicting. Nor the reign of tyranny others were preemptively condemning.
However, the elections results should be interesting. It is suggested that Nawaz Sharif was sent back to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia feared a Bhutto win would endanger their interests (especially the madrassahs they’re finding). Recall that even this return of his was premature based on the length of how long he was to be exiled. And no protest by Pakistan suggests Saudi authorities may have been involved. (Due to the money and oil Saudi Arabia gives Pakistan every year, no Pakistani authority would want to upset the Saudi government.) While Bhutto is seen a more secular and more pro-West, Sharif is seen as more Islamic and less pro-West. A Sharif win could make things dicey for us. While he may not call the shots when it comes to the Pakistani military (and considering the deep animosity between Sharif and Musharraf), Sharif could command public opinion, which in turn does affect the morale and legitimacy of military operations. I won’t go so far as to say Sharif would endanger US counter-terrorism efforts, but he could hinder our effectiveness by bolstering Pakistani sovereignty and not fully supporting an effective Pakistani counter-terrorism effort.
Hey, we were clamoring for him to hold free and fair elections. Last time we demanded it, the religious coalition became a major player and a major thorn in our side.
For once, I would not mind a CIA operation to ensure Bhutto became prime minister. Because true democracy does not exist in Pakistan to begin with, and so we need to play with what we have. We need Pakistan’s government on our side. (Of course, the last thing we need to do is proclaim this openly. Her pro-US stance hurt Bhutto, which is why she is not vocally as strident. Officially and publicly, we should not support anyone. But on election night, we better have magic vote-changing ballots to make sure Bhutto wins.)