It has been reported that President Musharaf of Pakistan could be trying to make a deal with the exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Musharraf is currently besieged on a number of fronts. He faces domestic Sunni and Shi’ite extremism. He also has to deal with the Taliban and their allies – who operate both in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. Additionally, he also faces opposition from the two main civilian politicians who dominated Pakistan in the 1990s – Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto - and from other figures in civil society. This can be seen by the lawyers' protests against his decision to sack the Chief Justice.
To make a deal with the PPP would enable Musharraf to gain broader political support for his government. However, it is a risky business. Bhutto may herself want to take over the reigns of power and may thus want him to stand aside in order to make any deal work. Or, alternatively, the risk could be one for her. She could lose the support and she and her father built up for the PPP by siding with a military regime. It could go either way and I do not know how people would react to news of such a deal.
The PPP have historically been the most secular of the two main parties in Pakistan. As such, a deal with them makes sense if Musharraf wants to build a secular regime. However, such a deal would perhaps drive the other opposition parties into the arms of Islamic fundamentalists. And, furthermore, I am not sure that a deal with the PPP would deal with the regional tensions that Pakistan faces. The Bhutto family’s powerbase is in Sindh and, if Musharraf is felt to be favouring Sindhis by appointing PPP stalwarts from that province to power, it may further alienate Pashtuns and others on the North-West frontier and may also cause anger among the Punjabi population who, numerically, make up over 40% of the 160m population.
So, it seems that both Musharraf and Bhutto are stuck in a difficult position. Will they make an alliance or not? We’ll have to wait and see.