October 5, 2007

Bhutto, Musharraf Reach Deal

Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto have reached a deal on power-sharing that they will announce today. It will clear a path for both Bhutto's return and Musharraf's election as civilian president, returning Pakistan to democracy. It will also provide a stronger and more moderate alliance to face off against the radicals in Pakistan, or so the US hopes:

President Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto have reached tentative agreement on a deal that is designed to give his election more credibility and allow her to return to Pakistan without facing corruption charges, officials on both sides said Friday.

The deal, which followed months of seesaw negotiations, was expected to be formally announced later Friday, the eve of a planned presidential vote in the national and provincial assemblies. ....

Musharraf has the support he needs to win a new five-year term, but Bhutto's party had threatened to join other opposition groups in resigning from the assemblies in protest. Such a move would further erode the credibility of a vote that is already being questioned because Musharraf is choosing to have his tenure extended by assemblies that are about to expire. Under the deal, Bhutto's party members will either abstain or vote for their own candidate, but will not step down.

In return, the government has agreed to grant amnesty to Bhutto and other politicians who have outstanding corruption charges dating to 1999 or earlier, but have not been convicted. The amnesty clears the way for Bhutto to return from exile on Oct. 18, after eight years abroad, and compete in parliamentary elections slated for late 2007 or early 2008. Bhutto, who twice served as prime minister in the late 1980s and 1990s, has said that she wants to win back her old job.

The technical details of the amnesty are important. They will allow Bhutto to return to public office in Pakistan, but not Nawaz Sharif. The man Musharraf kicked out of office in his coup has too many connections to the radicals that have twice tried to kill Musharraf. Sharif will have to cool his heels in Saudi Arabia, where Musharraf deported him last week, for at least a little while longer.

Musharraf needs Bhutto, and he knows it. He has lost credibility with both moderates and hardliners, and his only reliable power base was the Army before now. He needs a coalition of middle-class moderates in order to continue pressing against the extremists, and in order to get that he had to get Bhutto back from exile.

Bhutto shrewdly negotiated a deal for herself that will allow her to serve as a check on Musharraf's worst instincts, but she knows who the real enemy is. Her return will strengthen the moderate class, giving it credibility again from her face-down with Musharraf. His resignation as army chief of staff would never have come without her pressure, and Musharraf's submission to the democratic process -- flawed as it is -- starts a peaceful transition from military junta to civilian rule.

The US hopes that this alliance will strengthen Pakistan enough to rejoin the fight against al-Qaeda in Waziristan. We'd settle for better insurance that Pakistan's nukes will not fall into the hands of AQ or its sympathizers.


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