Musharraf may offer his Pakistani arch-foes leverage

Musharraf may offer his Pakistani arch-foes leverage

The return of an ex-dictator to his homeland, which heavily suffered under his rule, and the recent trial in which he was granted bail for high-profile criminal cases attracted surprisingly scant media attention last week despite his controversial history and his country’s crucial upcoming elections.

Ending his five-year-long self-imposed exile following a resignation amid threats of impeachment, Gen. Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan not a week ago despite Taliban’s assassination threats and pending lawsuits against him. After a court hearing Friday, he escaped not only from a shoe hurled at him but also prison, at least for two weeks.

The ex-dictator returned to Pakistan supposedly to rekindle the popular support for his party on the eve of the upcoming May general elections. As of today, he is not even a powerful challenger to either the ruling Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) or the second biggest party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) – the two dominant parties led by his arch-nemeses.

Ironically, coup d’état-ridden Pakistan’s history has been witnessing another spiral of instability with Musharraf’s return. The former general, who was the main U.S. ally in its so-called “war on terror” that largely laid the ground for his inevitable end, is being tried for his negligence in the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto along with two other lawsuits.

Just like Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto had ended her self-imposed exile amid lingering corruption cases upon a thorny deal with the general against the rising influence of PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from the seat after Musharraf’s coup. She soon fell victim to a Taliban assassination, which was the second attempt against her, and her killing marked the start of Musharraf’s end.

Now, the ghost of Benazir Bhutto is haunting the ex-dictator with her husband, President Asif Ali Zardari, and her son and PPP co-chair, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, building their electoral campaign by targeting Musharraf with the case, holding him responsible for the assassination. But, the PPP has been experiencing hard times trying to lure voters not just because of Zardari’s controversial past but also his complicated relationship with the judiciary and the military amid the rising political jockeying among other parties.

The PML (N), the PPP’s main contender in the 2008 elections, has already struck an alliance with an ex-PPP ally amid open offers from a couple of Islamists parties. In a deeply divided country in which the direction of the military’s tides have been a game-setter, the PML (N) appeared to timidly receive the generals’ backing in the latest round of its quarrel with the PPP.

While still failing to make a stunning debut in Pakistani politics, despite initial high hopes, the centrist cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, has been trying to cement his vote by forging alliances with Islamists and rightists amid possible other deals among other Islamists or secularists, liberals or clanists with power in rural areas in which the Taliban has a great influence.

Amid the troubled times at home and outside Pakistan, the return of Musharraf will do little to aid his political career or his supporters, but the former general might be the unintended leverage for other main rivals, particularly the struggling PPP due to its unpopular co-leader Zardari facing corruption accusations, to boost its support for the elections unless the former general makes a deal, which actually would not be a surprise considering his and Pakistan’s on-and-off alliances, with an unexpected ally.

However, that also seems unlikely since the global factors and regional balances that brought Musharraf to power and kept him there have been significantly altered since he was last in office.