November 25, 2007

Sharif Home After Reaching 'Understanding'

The return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan went better than his last visit, where security forces bundled him onto a plane within hours of his arrival. This time, the former Prime Minister left the airport and successfully transited to his home, as planned in Saudi Arabia this week. While Sharif still opposes Musharraf, he has apparently accepted the presidential election as a fait accompli:

Speaking to the BBC from inside his plane, Mr Sharif said there was little room for any understanding with Mr Musharraf.

He said his objectives were to rid the country of military rule and to strengthen democracy. ...

BBC Pakistan correspondent Barbara Plett says Mr Sharif remains opposed to Gen Musharraf, but that he no longer poses a direct threat because the military leader has recently secured another presidential term by declaring an emergency.

His return on Sunday would be in time to file nomination papers to contest parliamentary elections on 8 January.

Opposition leaders, including Benazir Bhutto - another former prime minister who also recently returned from exile - are divided over whether to boycott the elections.

The opposing factions in Pakistan have apparently reached an accommodation. Bhutto and Sharif have tacitly accepted the election of Musharraf in return for an end to emergency rule and a free and clear parliamentary election. In return for that tacit acceptance, Musharraf has opened the prisons and released supporters of Sharif and Bhutto.

This practical solutions comes, without doubt, from Washington and Riyadh. Neither nation wants to see Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar get their hands on Pakistan's nuclear weapons. If they did, the selection of targets would almost certainly be Tel Aviv, followed shortly by Riyadh; India might come as a distant third. Riyadh wants stability, and Washington wants both stability and a return to democracy as a means of marginalizing the radical Islamists who got a large boost from Musharraf's emergency declaration.

Washington also wants a tougher fight against the radicals in northwest Pakistan. Without a broader political coalition in opposition to the radicals, that clearly will not happen. Musharraf has promised the West that he would take care of AQ and the Taliban, but Musharraf has instead tried cutting deals with them, unsure of his own footing. This may still not work, but Musharraf has begun to run out of excuses, and the US has to look for better solutions.

That last point had to be the most prominent made by John Negroponte on his visit with Musharraf this week. So far, Musharraf has heard that message. With luck, Pakistan will find a way through to success in the parliamentary elections in January.


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