News Analysis: Significance of Benazir’s homecoming
By Najam Sethi, Daily Times, October 19, 2007
She came, she saw and she wept with joy. Contrary to the moralising pundits who had predicted doom and gloom for Benazir Bhutto because she did an unsavoury “deal” with a military dictator in exchange for the reprieve of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, the masses in their multitudes seem to have approved her strategy to come back into power after being out in the cold for eleven years. In an indirect way, they have reiterated their view that affinity to power is a huge magnet for them. They refused to come out to vote for her in 1997 because they knew that the establishment wouldn’t let her back into office, just as they now sense that the powerful domestic and international establishment wants her back in office and they want to be part of the homecoming.
The NRO has already become irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether the Supreme Court throws it out or not. Ms Bhutto will say she has been proved innocent in the court of the people which matters more. With the government reluctant to prosecute, there isn’t a court in the land which can now unilaterally haul her up and become judge and jury at the same time. Indeed, she has already warned the law not to be ethnically biased.
The demonstration effect of her tumultuous welcome, thanks to the independent media, will probably lead to a surge in her popularity. She will try and press her advantage home by a grand entry into Larkana and later Multan. If the ruling party tries to repress the crowds, she will become defiant and heroic. If she is attacked by the extremists, she will become a living martyr. It is a win-win situation for her, right now at least.
Should General Musharraf be a worried man? A bit, to be sure, but then the stakes are so high that she is not likely to be carried away by the exuberance of her supporters and tangle with him unnecessarily. This marriage isn’t made in heaven anyway. Each party knows that if it doesn’t work they will both end up in hell. That is how much they both need each other. A domestic establishment without Musharraf might not view her too favourably while an international establishment without him might not view Nawaz Sharif with any degree of sanguinity.
The real worry in the PMLQ camp is Nawaz Sharif. If he succeeds in coming back, the ruling party might be denuded of its followers, in the urban areas of Punjab at least. Like Ms Bhutto, repression would make him heroic and acquiescence might lead to a stampede into his camp. Worst, if Mr Sharif allies with the MMA, he could take a chunk of the PMLQ’s vote bank and indirectly boost Ms Bhutto’s electoral prospects in a three way fight.
Of course, the curtain could come down on Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif if General Musharraf felt insecure and was compelled to wrap up this “noisy” and unpredictable transition to democracy. In the event, the thunderous arrival of Ms Bhutto on the scene could set the stage for more convulsions later for everyone concerned.
Postscript: The two bombs which targeted her and killed dozens of people are a foretaste of things to come. They are the handiwork of Al-Qaeda, no less than the attempts on the life of General Musharraf in the past. For those Pakistanis who are still obsessed with moral issues, they should serve to focus on the principal and most violent contradiction facing Pakistan in its quest for moderation and democracy.