Tuesday, November 27, 2007

wrecking the puppet show

for the past few weeks i've been playing with this theory that the clash between benazir bhutto and pervez musharrif was nothing but a puppet show. bhutto had been negotiating with musharraf about her return to pakistani politics before the general declared the state of emergency, so it was clear they had established contacts. also during the first few weeks of the emergency period, bhutto and musharraf's differences just seemed to be a little choreographed. at the same time musharraf was rounding up all kinds of dissenters, bhutto was calling for demonstrations. while musharraf's government warned bhutto not to protest, when she ignored the warnings it always seemed like the government was treating her lightly. they would let the demonstration proceed, even as they broke up other ones. they made a show of arresting bhutto at one point, but then she was confined to a "house arrest" that didn't seem to last more than a few days.

in short, i started to wonder if musharraf and bhutto had a deal. musharraf would declare martial law and bhutto would be able to play the leader with the courage to stand up for democracy. the end game would be bhutto's eventual "triumph", she would end up in power and in return she would find some way to take care of musharraf, giving him immunity and/or some token civilian position where he could retire. and, most importantly, nawaz sharif, musharraf's real enemy, would be shut out of the process.

anyway, i almost wrote about my theory a half dozen times here. but i didn't because i was never quite convinced it was really true. maybe the musharraf-bhutto conflict was a real conflict and not a show. bhutto's light treatment by the government could just as easily be explained by her popularity, or at least musharraf's fears of her potential popularity rather than a secret deal. at times i was utterly convinced by the puppet show theory and at other times i was equally convinced that i was trying to make up a conspiracy story just to make things more interesting.

i still am not sure which way to come down on the puppet show question. but it occurs to me that if there was a bhutto-musharraf deal, sharif is now screwing it all up. by calling the upcoming election a fraud if it takes place during the state of emergency and demanding the return of the fired judges, sharif is going beyond bhutto's demands. he, not she, now looks like the champion of democracy and the rule of law.

not that i'm a fan of any of the three players in this drama. it's really too bad that pakistan has such a small rotating cast of characters for potential prime ministers. in a country of 170 million surely there are better options than the flawed leaders of the past.