The Supreme Court has ruled that Nawaz Sharif can return to Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif, you may recall, was the Prime Minister who tried to kill The General by refusing to allow The General’s plane to land in Karachi and immediately succumbed to the coup soon thereafter. He then fled to Saudi Arabia clutching a suitcase filled with gold and agreed not to return for 10 years. That’s what The General said, at least. Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, maintains that he was ousted, forced to sign an agreement at gun-point to stay in exile, and should not be denied his rights to return.
The Supreme Court agrees with Nawaz Sharif. Exile is bad.
In the meantime, Bhutto has given details of power-sharing discussions which include two elections, one with The General as The General and one with Pervez Musharraf as The Artist Formerly Known as The General.
Both exiled ex-PMs Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif will be back in Pakistan by October and running for re-re-re-election in December. And that, gentle readers, couldn’t be better news – the election, ie, not Bhutto or Sharif in power again! But as I have said many times, let the people choose.
What does it all mean? In terms of internal politics of Pakistan, this is tremendous news for the resurgent democratic movement in Pakistan. The full participation of the many political parties – including the Bhuttos and Sharifs – will guarantee that Pakistan start recovering from the despotic military regime. However, that is easier said than done. The military, under Musharraf, has become the largest land-owning, asset-controlling entity in Pakistan with ex- and current military officials serving across the civil and social landscape. How can that military be coaxed “back into the barracks”? It is quite probable that there are forces within the military eager to curtail their political vulnerabilities. The popular image of the military in Pakistani society has underwent tremendous change in recent years – from a highly valued and respected institution (the only “corruption-free” one) to a hegemonic and undesirable presence. I could argue that the military’s own interests lie in withdrawing from the political realm and re-burnishing its image and standing. Of course, the defense budget remains the highest expenditure in the country and no successive civil government will change that. By and large, the military cannot lose by “giving democracy back” to the country. That was, after all, what Musharraf claimed when he took control.
In terms of oft-mentioned “Talibanization” of Pakistan and the wider conflict with extremism, the answers are less apparent at the moment. Some certainties do exist: any civil government will continue to fully cooperate with the US efforts. In fact, the efforts in Waziristan would be strengthened by the participation of Baluchistani leaders at the Federal level [Baluchistan has always been a Federal/State controversy]. The elections will not result in any rise-to-power of Mullah Omar in Islamabad. And a democratic Pakistan will surely be a far valuable ally within the Muslim world. The uncertainties largely hinge on the nature of the elections – the participation of various groups and their freedoms to do so. It will also be a chaotic period which can make Pakistan vulnerable to further attacks and incursions.
However, the bottom line is that Pakistan needs full and immediate US support through the next six months. UN should take an interest in insuring fair elections. And the subsequent government should be cultivated and nourished throughout the full term.