Nov 13, 2007 2
Benazir Bhutto called today for the resignation of Pervez Musharraf from both the army and presidency, giving strong indication that she has jumped off the fence and is now in complete opposition to Pakistan’s ruler. Though she has ruled out any future talks with Musharraf, it is unclear as to whether she is in communication with others in the army.
Her decision to fully oppose Pakistan’s ruler comes well after other opposition parties arrived at the same conclusion; it also follows her contravening of the spirit of the Charter of Democracy she signed with Nawaz Sharif in 2006 by going into talks with Musharraf. That is not to say others would not do the same if offered a Washington-backed foot in the door.
Though Bhutto now stands on the same side as Pakistan’s other opposition parties, she is not necessarily standing with them. Bhutto hasn’t completely ruled out participation in January’s scheduled polls. Indeed, she is clearly in campaign mode — intent on regaining the premiership and starting in Punjab. While other opposition leaders are — in the words of Imran Khan — “out of circulation,” Bhutto, using her relatively liberal treatment by Musharraf during emergency rule, has taken center stage.
While Washington might be comfortable with a post-Musharraf arrangement dominated by Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani and Benazir Bhutto, the Saudis are not enamored with the Daughter of the East and Darling of the West. Musharraf is expected to stop by Riyadh around John Negroponte’s visit this week; the Saudis would like to see the return of Nawaz Sharif, to restore a balance of civilian power favorable to them, and the release of ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul.
In order to ensure that Pakistan’s democratic moment lasts longer than a moment, Bhutto and, indeed, all of Pakistan’s opposition parties must mend relations; develop a collective agenda that also appreciates their natural political competition; and resist the temptation to resort to treachery, back-room deals, and — when out of power — sabotage.
If they fail to do so, Pakistan will witness a replay of previous short-lasting democratic transitions and a continuation of the corrosive cycle of failed civilian and military rule.
All this occurs at a critical juncture. Neighbor and rival India, over the next fifteen years, will likely continue to move toward becoming a superpower. In which direction will Pakistan go? That of Algeria, Lebanon, or Somalia?
The onus is now on Pakistan’s civilian politicians to transcend their base instincts and not repeat the mistakes of the past. If they fail to do so, Pakistan may very well one day itself be seen as a mistake of the past.