The political situation in Pakistan continues to confuse and confound. Roughly three months after the voters seemed to signal the sunset of President Pervez Musharraf, he and his allies are in the position where the governing party may very well rely on them to retain power.
The de facto rainbow coalition of the Pakistani People’s Party (the party of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (the party of former PM Nawz Sharif) has fallen apart (NDTV), as I expected it would. Ostensibly, it is about the judges that President Musharraf bounced last year, but if you listen to the two parties statements, the fate of the President seems to be the central issue. Sharif still wants Musharraf out ASAP, while the PPP – now led by Bhutto’s widower Asif Zardari – has no such problems with the President (BBC).
Thus, I suspect (as I always have), that at some point, Sharif will move to outright opposition (at present, he says he’s backing the government on an issue-by-issue basis).
So what would happen when (or, if you prefer, if) Sharif plays the opposition card? Well, the PPP would need new allies to reform the government. As it happens, Musharraf’s faction of the Pakistani Muslim League and his MQM allies have enough MPs to give the PPP a coalition majority (Int’l News Network).
This puts Musharraf in a position in which no one (except yours truly) could see him a few months ago – kingmaker. He can’t give Sharif power (and he wouldn’t want to do so anyway), but he canprop up Zardari’s PPP. Or, he could take a chance on new elections (if a parliamentary majority cannot be cobbled together after the PML-N walks, elections are mandated) and hope to benefit from the inability of Zardari and Sharif to get along.
The main thing to remember is this: Musharraf has alwayshad a bigger problem with Sharif than with the Bhutto family. So don’t rule out a Musharraf-Zardari alliance that freezes out the least U.S.-friendly “mainstream” Pakistani leader (Sharif). Not that I trust Musharraf very much, but I would vastly prefer him to Sharif – whose reckless policies in the 1990s led India to become a nuclear power to defend itself (and that was before Sharif started a war over Kashmir in which India waxed Pakistan) – as a partner with Zardari’s PPP.
So look for major changes in Pakistani politics over the next few months – and perhaps, when it’s all over, a stronger hand against Taliban forces in Pakistan.
Cross-posted to the Shotgun