Developing Political Scenario in Pakistan

Old Rival Clouds Musharraf-Bhutto Grand Bargain
Exiled Sharif Plans Return to Pakistan On Wave of Support
By PETER WONACOTT in New Delhi and ZAHID HUSSAIN in Islamabad
Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2007; Page A4

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto edged closer to a deal designed to secure each of them a future in Pakistani politics, people on both sides of the negotiations say.

But their delicate plans for a power-sharing arrangement could yet be upended by another former prime minister who is expected to arrive in Pakistan Monday with a groundswell of popularity under him.

Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, has emerged just recently as a threat to Gen. Musharraf's efforts to gain another term as president. Eight years ago, Gen. Musharraf ousted Mr. Sharif from power in a bloodless coup and installed a military-backed government; Mr. Sharif went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

But Mr. Sharif's political fortunes have soared recently as he has fashioned himself as a champion of democratic rule at a time when Gen. Musharraf's political stock has plummeted, forcing the president to seek an alliance with another old foe, Ms. Bhutto, who also has been living abroad. The talks between the two camps have hurt Ms. Bhutto's popularity as well, and buoyed the 57-year-old Mr. Sharif's standing with the electorate.

"After 60 years of independence, there are still just two kinds of politicians in Pakistan -- those who play into the hands of tinpots and those who resist them," says Syeda Abida Hussain, formerly a minister under Mr. Sharif. "Nawaz, to his credit, has stood up to the military."

Gen. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto may get a chance to reclaim the political spotlight. They are expected soon to unveil an agreement that would allow Gen. Musharraf to serve a second term as president after an election in the next few weeks, and Ms. Bhutto to run for prime minister in elections later this year or early next.

A spokesman for Ms. Bhutto said yesterday that a pact was almost concluded after talks in Dubai. A government spokesman acknowledged the talks and said the government hoped for a positive outcome.

Under the prospective deal, Gen. Musharraf's government is expected to help remove a constitutional amendment banning prime ministers from serving three terms in office, which currently is an obstacle for Ms. Bhutto. Earlier, the two sides resolved the contentious issue of Gen. Musharraf's retirement from the military, which he also heads, though the timing of that move is unclear.

Gen. Musharraf is standing for election to another presidential term in a vote that must be taken between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. He is expected to win, because the voting is done by an electoral college, made up of parliamentarians and members of four state assemblies. While opposition leaders could create turmoil and further undermine his authority, Ms. Bhutto's support may diminish that possibility.

Even as political maneuverings move forward, Gen. Musharraf, an important U.S. ally, confronts an increasingly grim security situation. Yesterday, two bombs exploded outside Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, killing at least 25 people. One blast occurred on an army bus. Although no one claimed responsibility, officials believe Islamic militants may have acted in revenge for army attacks on the Afghanistan border. That area is a suspected stronghold of al Qaeda fighters.

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