Until further notice, its just another Musharraf manoeuvre
Asif Ali Zardari, once Pakistan’s Mr Ten Percent, spent so much time in prison that his alleged crimes faded from public memory. He ended up with the title (by marriage) of Pakistan’s most famous political prisoner. And then, suddenly, even this title was snatched away from him, when a full bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court released him on bail.
There are two ways to look at this. The first is that Musharraf has finally realised that in order to defeat the forces of Islamic fundamentalism he needs to resuscitate the non-religious ‘mainstream’ political parties that he marginalised since coming to power. Alternately, the second Bush administration and its incoming secretary of state have begun to squeeze Musharraf much harder on democracy, leading him to reach out to Benazir Bhutto, and even to Nawaz Sharif.
The second, and in my opinion, the more likely reason why Musharraf made this overture is simply to create confusion in the ranks of his domestic political opponents. The Islamic opposition has threatened to launch nationwide protests after Musharraf’s failure to keep his end of the deal on the uniform issue; while this poses no real threat to his position, the Mullahs could make things difficult in the national assembly. That would only make it difficult for Musharraf to make his usual claims that contrary to observed reality, Pakistan is indeed a democracy.
Zardari’s rehabilitation does not immediately imply the return of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, to Pakistani politics. In the short term, all political formations in Pakistan would reassess their positions and begin to prepare for some new equations to emerge. While the MMA may outwardly express its joy over Zardari’s release, the mullahs know for certain that Benazir Bhutto’s PPP is not their most likely political ally. The PPP’s political clout may mean that the MMA has to return back to Musharraf’s arms, in which case complaining too loudly about the General’s uniform is not a very clever idea.
Indeed, these two ways of looking at Zardari’s release need not necessarily be mutually exclusive. Musharraf could just have tactically chosen the best moment to undermine his domestic opponents and satisfy his foreign sponsors at the same time. What better time to tell the US Congress that he is a well-behaved enlightened moderate than now, when humongous arms deal is up for its approval?