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November 26, 2007
One more headache for Musharraf
A lit match has just been thrown into the dynamite that is the Pakistani political situation.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has returned from exile and promises to complicate an already dicey political situation:
Mr. Sharif’s unimpeded homecoming at Lahore airport stood in stunning contrast to his attempt to return less than three months ago, when Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, ordered Mr. Sharif summarily deported. Sharif was prime minister when General Musharraf tossed him aside in a military coup back in 1999. Both men loathe each other, Musharraf referring to Sharif as a "fascist" in his memoirs published last year.
The change appeared to reflect an acknowledgment by General Musharraf, who overthrew Mr. Sharif in a coup eight years ago, that Mr. Sharif remains enormously popular and that his own authority may be waning. “I have come to save this country,”
Mr. Sharif said at the airport arrivals hall to hundreds of supporters who shouted: “Long Live! Long Live! Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif!” And in a message to General Musharraf, they chanted: “Run, Musharraf, run! The lion has come!”
Although a heavy police deployment tried to prevent a large crowd from forming at the airport and along the route into town, they did not try to restrain Mr. Sharif or break up the crowd.
What makes the return of Sharif problematic is that it throws a monkey wrench into plans by Musharraf to strike a deal with another major opposition figure, Benazir Bhutto. Given Sharif's refusal to negotiate with Musharraf, he has become the de-facto leader of the opposition. Recognizing this, Sharif has called for a meeting of opposition parties at his home on November 29 to decide whether they should take part in elections scheduled by Musharraf for next January 8.
Bhutto's Pakistani People's Party, the largest opposition party, has also expressed reservations about participating in the elections unless Musharraf lifts the state of emergency. Given the tactical defeat suffered by the Pakistani president by being forced to accept the return of Sharif, Musharraf may have no choice but to bow to the wishes of the opposition and do what the US and others have been urging; that he lift martial law and establish democracy.