Dramatic proof for the adage that ‘there are no permanent enemies in politics’ comes from Pakistan, where emissaries of President Pervez Musharraf and exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have decided to form a political alliance. Under the deal, Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is to support General Musharraf’s re-election by the present assemblies, which will be endorsed by the new Houses after the general elections due later this year. Under the Pakistani Constitution, one cannot hold two offices. Considering that Mr Musharraf had helped himself to a one-time waiver on this, standing for re-election while holding the post of chief of army staff, will be a sticky issue. Which is obviously why the military government has agreed to drop several corruption cases against Ms Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Not that the General would be too eager to close the case against Mr Zardari in connection with the September 1996 murder of Murtaza Bhutto. For keeping the case alive would be an insurance policy against Ms Bhutto stepping out of line.
The PPP-government reconciliation itself is not surprising, given that the writing was on the wall ever since the PPP started distancing itself from the mainstream Opposition. The clearest sign came during the recent lawyers’ movement (in the wake of the presidential action against the chief justice) when the PPP made only token protests against the president’s move. While this cuts the tenuous ties the PPP had with Nawaz Sharif’s PML, other Opposition parties may see this as an opportunity to increase pressure on the Musharraf regime. Ms Bhutto was the last impediment to an anti-Musharraf alliance, and with her out of the way, they could possibly cheerlead a collision between pro-US ‘enlightened moderates’ on one side, and ‘pro-Islam’ forces on the other.
Unfortunately for Mr Musharraf, increasing US pressure to resolve growing extremism in the country’s semi-autonomous tribal areas near Afghanistan makes it a delicate balancing act as he’s forced to be seen to act decisively against al-Qaeda, while following the politics of expediency at home.