AsiaMedia: Whither Pakistan’s Charter of Democracy?

In Pakistan, it increasingly appears that everything old may soon be new again — for better, but perhaps also for worse.

The drama has been riveting. Equipped with last month’s Supreme Court order recognizing his “inalienable right” to return to Pakistan, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif plans to arrive in Islamabad on Monday to lead his party in this fall’s elections. Not to be left behind, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto — who has been negotiating with President General Pervez Musharraf over their respective political futures — has accelerated her own plans to return to Pakistan, indicating that she will announce the timing of her return next week.

Musharraf has warned that Sharif may be arrested upon his arrival, and a special antiterrorism court this week reinstituted corruption charges against Sharif in anticipation of his return. While Sharif has apparently booked tickets on five different flights in an effort to keep intelligence officials guessing, yet another political showdown at a Pakistani airport seems inevitable. However, with the apparent encouragement of the U.S. and British governments, Musharraf has continued to negotiate with Bhutto. So far, those talks have stalled because Musharraf has insisted that he continue to serve simultaneously as president and army chief and that the president continue to have the constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister or dissolve parliament.

With all of the media attention paid to the mutual antagonism between Musharraf and Sharif — who literally tried to kill each other in 1999 and 2000 — and to the negotiations between Musharraf and Bhutto, observers outside of Pakistan have virtually ignored the third side of this triangle, between Bhutto and Sharif themselves. In the process, the deeper structural issues that transcend the soap opera transpiring among these three personalities — and the folly of the U.S. and British governments’ efforts to broker a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto — have been wholly obscured.

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