It now seems clear that Benazir Bhutto will return to Pakistan by October, her many sins forgiven if not forgotten. Among other allegations, she and her husband Asif Ali Zardari are said to have taken between $ 100 million and $ 1. 5 billion in a series of kickbacks and bribery schemes, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
It has been eight years since Benazir was driven out, but, apparently Musharraf, now under pressure, would be willing to have her back, considering that he himself is in grave trouble. His popularity, such as it was, has plummeted. A public opinion poll carried out by the International Republican Institute, an American organisation, shows that his approval ratings have fallen from 60 per cent in June 2006 to 34 per cent now. Nearly two out of three Pakistanis believe he should not run for re-election.
What is significant is that it is the public that has finally revolted against military dictatorship. Hardly anyone expected that the lawyers in Pakistan who, in the past, had tamely watched the judiciary being emaciated, would bare their teeth over the removal of Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chadhury from his post. By trying to oust him, Musharraf overplayed his hand. Such was the nation-wide revolt against that step that Justice Chaudhury had to be reinstated. The July 20 re-instatement has shown to the Pakistani citizens that, if only they have the courage, they can non-violently stand up to military dictatorship.
At the same time pressures have been building up against Musharraf even in Washington, forcing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to call him up and warn him against imposing Emergency which he had planned. Musharraf had to tamely give in. Realisation has apparently dawned on him that the best way to survive is to make peace with Benazir Bhutto which he apparently now has, following talks with her in July 27 at Abu Dhabi.
According to reliable reports three ?conciliatory? moves have already been made by Pakistan'sNational Accountability Burean (NAM) in the corruption cases filed against her. In the first place, NAB has withdrawn its prosecution of Benazir in the Swiss courts; secondly, the same withdrawal has been launched in the Spanish courts and right in Pakistan itself where the law does not give the state the option to unilaterally drop charges in criminal cases, the NAB has been instructed not to pursue cases against the former Prime Minister.
Even more to the point, Musharraf has ordered unfreezing of some of Benazir'sbank accounts and, what is more significant, according to knowledgeable sources, there is a strong possibility of Musharraf knocking down through an Ordinance the clause of the 17th amendment that prevents an individual from becoming Pakistan'sPrime Minister for a third time.
Admittedly it is Benazir who has been the beneficiary in her talks with Musharraf. Sadly, these talks have undermined the rule of law in the words of a Pakistani columnist ?by making public prosecution seem like a tool for political horse-trading?. Thus, when in December 2000, a convicted Nawaz Sharif was allowed to leave for Saudi Arabia by hijacking the legal process, the State had used the prosecution as a political tool. Politics, in that sense, is replacing law in Pakistan. From what one learns, Benazir who heads the Pakistan Peoples? Party (PPP) has consented to accept Musharraf as President for a second term. That consent would give a clear edge to Musharraf to get re-elected with the claimed 56 per cent majority in the electoral college, though, according to an first-ever Indo-Pak Poll, 55 per cent of Pakistanis feel that Musharraf should quit. Whether he will give up his uniform is anybody'sguess. What reigns supreme in Pakistan is not ethics, but politics. No wonder the Bhutto-Musharraf deal has invited Opposition.
Pakistan'sRightwing Opposition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has threatened to fight it. Benazir says she is standing by her commitment against a uniformed President and will seek a Supreme Court verdict but that might turn out to be only a hope. The military may temporarily have been marginalised but it is still there and, according to Stephen P.Cohen, a distinguished American analyst and author of The Idea of Pakistan, ?even if Musharraf were forced out of the presidency and ceased to be army chief, his military colleagues would continue to rule?. That is Pakistan'sgrim reality.
Right now the hope is that if only a post-election national government is formed with the PPP, PML-Q and even MQM joining in coalition with Benazir as Prime Minister, democracy?or at least some form of it?may yet come to be established in Pakistan. But where would another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif stand? Or, for that matter, parties like the Tehrik-e-Insaaf of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan?
If Benazir can come back home, why shouldn'tNawaz Sharif also be permitted to do so? What applies to Benazir should with equal justice be applicable to Nawaz Sharif as well, even though his brother, the former Chief Minister of Punjab has now been allowed by the Supreme Court to return to Pakistan. But presuming that all goes well with the Bhutto-Musharraf deal to the mutual satisfaction of both parties, what does that presage for Indo-Pak relations? With Washington'sperennial interest in Pakistan?US Asst Secretary of State Richard Boucher has been quoted as saying that ?we want to see a smooth and stable transition in Pakistan that leads to a government that people have voted for and that leads to a stable political situation??the question remains whether any government formed in Islamabad would put the Pakistan Army in place and make peace with India. What are Benazir'sviews on the subject? Will she keep the ISI in check?
According to Stephen Cohen, ?the great danger is that this time around, Pakistan may not have the internal resources to manage its own rescue? and that ?if that is the case, then in years to come, a nuclear-armed and terrorism-capable Pakistan will become everyone'sbiggest foreign policy problem?. Cohen himself feels that Pakistan ?might get tougher with India? a factor worth keeping in mind in the days to come. For India, peace is not on the horizon, whether Musharraf is in or out. As Cohen put it: ?What better way to unite Pakistanis than a crisis with New Delhi??. He should know.