Originally Published 2013-04-20 00:00:00 Published on Apr 20, 2013
Just compare the return of Benazir Bhutto with that of Musharraf. Both equally botched up. Bhutto's return was part of a deal between the Army and the US. Which interests had struck the deal with Musharraf?
Nothing became Musharraf less than his return to inhospitable Pakistan
How will the Pervez Musharraf tragi-comedy affect events in Pakistan? To gauge the future, the past should be something of a guide.

Richard Armitage, US Deputy Secretary of State, flew into Islamabad and left Musharraf with no option after the global War on Terror was launched after 9/11: Pakistan would have to join the war on America's terms.

This imposed a paradox on Musharraf. He was required to exterminate exactly those Jihadists, who had been armed to the teeth by the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, since the 1980s, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. These had been diligently shaped into an Islamist fighting machine. This machine, once a favourite of the Pak army, for a low level conflict in Kashmir for instance, was now required to be destroyed.

So, Musharraf began to play both sides of the street. Occasionally he was found out and had his ears tweaked by Washington.

Washington's requirements were two fold which, sometimes, dictated distinct approaches. With egg on its face in Iraq, it was important to muffle, terminate stories of rising militancy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Musharraf had to be spurred on in this war.

Washington's other requirement grew out of the Republican desire for a magical outcome: namely - end to militancy plus a democratic Pakistan growing into a full blown oak. This could be advertised as an achievement on the eve of the November 2008 US elections.

Some sympathetic souls in the US realized Musharraf was taking too much of the blowback from the Afghan war on himself. That is how the idea grew out of a three way power structure - the President, Army and a Prime Minister who, in this case, was to be Benazir Bhutto.

Just compare the return of Benazir Bhutto with that of Musharraf. Both equally botched up. There is a universal delusion that establishments, whether in Islamabad or in Washington, are absolutely on the ball as far as intelligence is concerned. Of course they are not. Otherwise Bhutto would not have been assassinated nor would Musharraf have landed himself in boiling, witches' cauldron.

But wait a minute. Bhutto's return was part of a deal between the Army and the US. Which interests had struck the deal with Musharraf?

Remember, when Bhutto's participation in the February 2008 elections had been cleared, Nawaz Sharif was sent back to Jeddah from the airport. His candidature was initially not kosher. Saudi Arabia pushed for him and thereafter, with his hands tied behind his back, he came up trumps in Punjab and, nationally, second only to the PPP which gained because of sympathy on account of Bhutto's assassination.

In other words, Sharif won despite the Army and the US being in opposition to him. After all it was Gen. Pervez Musharraf who had ousted him in a coup.

His proximity to the Saudis had also given him access to elements who had mutated into Al Qaeda and Taleban. Since the US was pushing for an all out war against militant Islam, Sharif's softer tone was not popular with the Americans.

The situation has changed. The US is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan after stitching up some kind of an arrangement with the Taleban. This is a pipe dream, but on that later. In these circumstances, is Sharif's chance of remaining a front runner for the May 11 elections a source of comfort to Washington?

There is, however, an awkward complexity. In an atmosphere of rampaging anti Americanism in Pakistan the only way to advance electorally is to be perceived by the electorate to have steered clear of the US. The paradox involved is exquisite: advance on an anti American platform to be able to help Washington find interlocutors influential with the Taleban.

Where does Musharraf fit into this scenario? If he had not become something of a political cipher, he may have helped the Muslim League (Q) to steal some of Sharif's thunder in Punjab.

Unless the plot is so high and deep as to be beyond the capacity of available instruments to gauge, on the face of it, a homesick Musharraf has returned to everybody's utter embarrassment.

Armed with faith, Abraham jumped into the fire of Nimrod and found himself wreathed in flowers. Musharraf has leapt into a fire, but it looks increasingly probable that he will emerge wreathed in street dirt.

He deserved better. He had gone farther with both, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh than any Pakistani leader in reaching an agreement with New Delhi. He could not upturn laws but he liberalized conditions of living in Pakistan. There was only a government TV when he took charge. By the time he left, Pakistan had a thriving, lively media which too has turned upon him. He has placed himself in a situation where he cannot be helped even by the Army, of which he was once master.

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