The real question that should be asked is why Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf thinks it is worthwhile to try and garner enough votes to run for the office that he once held as a dictator. According to the opinion polls, his support is almost non-existent. He has no political network or party structure inside Pakistan. No major political party supports him. And at least outwardly, the military does not seem prepared to be his patron. Musharraf faces a raft of legal cases and a Supreme Court that despises him. Supporters who showed up at the airport to greet him just barely outnumbered the journalists at the scene. The obvious answer is that in a polity as unpredictable and in as much chaos as Pakistan’s, everyone has a chance of winning. And everyone has an even greater chance of holding the balance of power in the national assembly, no matter how few seats one wins.
What is more interesting is that Musharraf’s return is merely the latest example of a dark horse trying to make a run at the national sweepstakes. The former cricketer, Imran Khan, rode high on curiously flush coffers but has been fading since. The mass protests by the religious-cum-political leader Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri muddied the political waters for a while. The dominant theory is that the military has been encouraging as many candidates to enter the fray as possible because of their concerns that the two main democratic parties, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, seem likely to divide the spoils between them. This is not a surprise. What is different is that, for once, neither of these parties has tied itself to the military. If anything, they have begun cooperating with each other and even discussing the possibility of seat adjustments. For the generals, who have spent much of the past several decades ensuring the democratic parties are too divided to challenge the army, this is an anathema.
However, the Pakistani military has never been as weak politically as it is today. The presidency, the judiciary, public opinion and the two largest parties are all outside the sway of the men in khaki. If the army, as is suspected, is at least passively behind Imran Khan’s brief surge in the polls and the return of Musharraf then these are all signs of desperation. Unable to divide and conquer the two main parties, Rawalpindi is reverting to salami tactics — trying to slice the electorate into as many thin slices as possible. This would lead to a fragmented assembly and, by default, power would gravitate back into the military’s hands. For India there can be no doubt as to what the best electoral result would be. The Pakistani military is at the root of what bedevils that country — the Islamicist militant groups, the export of terror and the stunted nature of its polity. If it is whittled down even more in terms of influence and power in the coming election, then all the better.