November 21, 2007

Pakistani Opposition Wavers

After a unanimous call to boycott the upcoming Pakistani parliamentary elections, opposition parties have suddenly shifted course and hinted that they will participate after all. The change in tone followed the release of most, although not all, protestors, lawyers, and opposition party officials. Even the party of still-exiled Nawaz Sharif said that a boycott made no sense unless all parties rejected the poll:

Opposition parties wavered Wednesday on whether to boycott crucial Pakistani elections, backing off their most strident calls to shun the vote unless President Gen. Pervez Musharraf ends his state of emergency.

The government continued to roll back a wave of repression, freeing several hundred more opponents across the country, as the president returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss the future of an exiled rival, Nawaz Sharif. ...

Bhutto said late Tuesday that it would be a "good sign" if Musharraf quits his army post, and avoided criticizing him directly. She said her party needed a few more days to decide whether to boycott the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. ...

[Sharif party chair Raja Zafarul] Haq declined to say whether his party would boycott the vote, saying the opposition ought to make a collective decision. "If there is a decision to participate in the elections, all parties should participate. Otherwise all parties should boycott," he said.

It looks like all sides have decided to take a deep breath before plunging into the abyss of outright chaos. While Musharraf continues releasing people from prison, the opposition parties have now taken a wait-and-see attitude to determine how far Musharraf will go in reversing the emergency order and its effects. Musharraf will take office in a few days as a civilian and step down from the Army, and perhaps at that point he will end his emergency rule -- and hope the courts accept it as a fait accompli.

How destabilizing has all this been to Pakistan? Not very much so, if Musharraf's travel is any indication. Musharraf's trip to Saudi Arabia could have allowed an opening for a coup d'etat had his opponents mustered the strength for such an event. Dictators traveling abroad sometimes find that someone else has taken their place before they can return. Musharraf had no such concerns, and it is interesting that the radical Islamists didn't attempt some sort of mischief.

While the situation is far from idyllic, it appears to have improved somewhat since John Negroponte delivered a rather blunt message from George Bush to Musharraf. The imminent danger of collapse appears to have passed -- but the Bush administration should keep the contingency plans handy, just in case.


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