Shortly after her assassination, Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal spoke of his mother’s belief that democracy was the best revenge. It has come too late for the iconic leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). But democracy it is for her country as it shakes off years of dictatorship in what seems a surprisingly free and fair election. The PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have left President Pervez Musharraf’s ally, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) or the ‘King’s Party’, behind in their dust as together they have crossed the half-way mark. The fundamentalist parties have also taken a beating. Now that the general is up the creek without a paddle, he has called for reconciliation, ironically the title of Benazir’s last book.
The best Mr Musharraf can hope for is that the two major parties, bitter rivals in the past, either don’t come together and form a coalition, or that, if they do, they don’t have the two-thirds majority to impeach him. Stalwarts in the ‘King’s Party’, like its president Shujaat Hussain, have fallen like ninepins as also have those associated with former dictator Zia-ul Haq. This includes his son Ijaz. What has caught many off guard is that the intelligence agencies and the army did not try and rig the polls more effectively. Here we discern that the general has played his deck smartly. An obviously rigged election would have led to further violence and bloodshed, a handle for the fundamentalists to beat him with and would have earned him the opprobrium of the West, especially the US. With a new administration set to take over in Washington, assuming a statesman-like role and cooperating with a democratically elected government is his best bet for political survival. Though the PPP has moved ahead of the PML(Nawaz), it has not performed to expectations given the sympathy factor it was set to exploit. This could be because, with Benazir gone, people were not willing to cede untrammeled power to her once notoriously corrupt husband Asif Zardari, the regent to her son Bilawal.
For Nawaz Sharif, revenge is truly a dish best eaten cold. After years in exile following Mr Musharraf’s coup, what better homecoming for him than to see his arch foe get a hammering in the polls. And to see even the Mohajir Quami Movement, once an ally of the ‘King’s Party’ say that it is not averse to an alliance with either the PPP or the PML(N). The biggest challenge now for the new government is to push the army back into the barracks and begin the task of genuine reconciliation in a country reeling under poverty, instability and fundamentalism.