Pervez Musharraf seems to have wagered his political future on the deal he has reportedly struck with Benazir Bhutto. Mr Musharraf and Ms Bhutto reportedly finalised an agreement last month in Abu Dhabi to allow the latter to return home, participate in elections scheduled later this year, and head a coalition government as Prime Minister. Of course, the General will first have to make changes in the Constitution so that Ms Bhutto can be politically rehabilitated. Ironically, Mr Musharraf is now forced to tinker with a constitutional amendment that he himself made after toppling Nawaz Sharif in October 1999.
The law currently bars a third term for a PM, and as it happens both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif have already had two terms each, never mind if neither completed a full-term of five years. Faced with a host of problems and flagging popularity ratings, Mr Musharraf is banking on the polls to bail him out. It is not that he needs the vote of Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to get elected as president from the current Parliament, whose tenure expires on November 15. He needs the PPP to stay away from the Opposition during the presidential polls, so that he can muster enough votes with help from other parties like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and elements from the ruling regime to modify the Constitution and ensure that he is re-elected in uniform.
These calculations, however, could go wrong if the PPP refuses to give in on the thorny issue of the General retaining two positions simultaneously: president and army chief. Ms Bhutto may not be too eager to share the responsibility for all the measures Islamabad takes, especially in the US-led war against terrorism that is so unpopular in Pakistan. And since Mr Musharraf needs her more than she needs him, it remains to be seen if and how his gamble will pay off.