NEWS & ANALYSIS: Sharif returns to Pakistan

The autumn of the patriarch

The Bhutto-Musharraf relationship has deteriorated sharply since her return to Karachi last month. Yet despite everything, the pre-crisis mutual understanding brokered by the US is still salvageable. “Musharraf and Bhutto detest each other. They both think of themselves as saviours. Neither is good at sharing power,” a senior official said.

“But this marriage was not made in heaven. It was made in Washington. Benazir does whatever the Americans tell her.” Both leaders were pro-American and relatively secular and liberal in outlook, unlike the conservative Sharif with his strong ties to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s religious parties. And again unlike Bhutto, Sharif is adamant he will not work with Musharraf, who he has never forgiven for deposing him in the 1999 coup.

The most likely, immediate outcome was a coalition government led by Bhutto as prime minister, the official said, even though the chances of her working successfully with him as civilian president were poor in the longer term. “Benazir will make a bid for greater power as PM. The dynamic will be with her. So there’s going to be a big struggle.”

In prospect now is a return to Pakistan’s so-called “troika politics” of the 1990s, when president, prime minister and military fought for the political upper hand, usually in alliances of two-against-one. This ongoing institutionalised power struggle, guaranteeing instability and strife, was also cast as a battle between the “three A’s” – “America, the army, and Allah,” not necessarily in that order. [complete article]

Second time lucky

“The lion is back.” Thus read a banner held aloft at Lahore airport on Sunday November 25th to welcome home Nawaz Sharif, a rotund former Pakistani prime minister, returned from exile in Saudi Arabia and Britain. Outside the airport, Mr Sharif clambered atop a Saudi-given bullet-proof vehicle and roared his response: “We have to save the country. We have to unite and get rid of dictatorship.”

Mr Sharif’s homecoming does seem to be a blow to General Pervez Musharraf, the dictator in question. The event attracted a crowd of several thousand supporters of his Pakistan Muslim League (N) party—far fewer than the 200,000 who welcomed home another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, last month. Yet unlike Miss Bhutto, Mr Sharif returns as a sworn enemy of the general. And unlike Miss Bhutto’s supporters, who had been carefully corralled by her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Mr Sharif’s fans turned up in defiance of martial law, including a ban on political gatherings, imposed by General Musharraf on November 3rd.

In another ominous comparison for General Musharraf, who toppled Mr Sharif in a previous coup in 1999, this was his rival’s second homecoming this year. In September Mr Sharif spent only four hours in Pakistan before he was deported to Saudi Arabia. That he has now been permitted to return home was at the insistence of the Saudis, allies of both men. [complete article]

See also, Throngs welcome Pakistan’s ex-leader (WP).

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