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The Blueprint For Civility
It has taken Gen Musharraf 14 months to provide a glimpse of his exit strategy. His decision to exile Nawaz Sharif and his family to Saudi Arabia has divided the Opposition, which had lately begun talking of banding against the military regime. A divided Opposition can now enable Musharraf to create a constitutional package that would in the long run favour the army.
In other words, Gen Musharraf could beef up certain politicians who would effectively be under the army's control, making it easier for him to control the courts and the presidency. Also, the symbolism of loyalty that an incarcerated Sharif invoked, and which helped mobilise public opinion against the military regime, is mostly gone.
Sharif's exile to Saudi Arabia can also be explained to those who believe that he should have been severely punished for his corruption. The Sharif case has been handled as a corruption case where political expediency and punishment for illegal assets have gone together. The pardon, after all, was officially and legally handed down by President Rafiq Tarar. Sharif is required by the courts to forfeit $8.3 million in property and stay out of politics for 21 years, just as industrialists thrown into jail for corruption have had to forfeit tens and thousands of dollars to secure their release. A lot of people in Pakistan feel that this is preferable to a situation like that of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was sent to the gallows by the then army ruler Zia-ul-Haq.
Should one expect the same clemency for Benazir Bhutto's imprisoned husband, Asif Ali Zardari? His case is different. He has taken billions of dollars, not just millions. But it is possible that Musharraf might want to get rid of him as well. The Indian media is overstating things when it says that there is popular resentment against the decision to exile Sharif. This 'resentment' is actually more orchestrated rather than being any sort of genuine outrage.
Gen Musharraf's other crucial card is India. During my meetings with ministers and other people in India, I sensed a courtesy and hospitality that was not there even a couple of months ago. But it remains to be seen whether all this translates into something tangible.