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Will She, Won't She?

Benazir has the means. But a will to oppose Musharraf...

Will She, Won't She?
Will She, Won't She?
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When Benazir Bhutto suddenly upped and left for Dubai, saying she wanted to meet her ailing mother and children (no mention of hubby dear), many saw her departure as suspicious. Why should she leave Pakistan a week after receiving a tumultuous response? There was also the timing. The Supreme Court was to deliver its verdict on the issue of Musharraf holding dual office, and it was feared an adverse verdict could goad him into imposing Emergency. Has she been tipped off about 'something', even her party people whispered.

Hours after the Emergency, Benazir was back in Karachi, issuing statements against the suspension of the Constitution. So, is she willing to oppose Musharraf? Or will she continue her political minuet, much to the confusion of everyone around? Her stance is important because her party has the capacity to mobilise people, especially as Nawaz Sharif is away in exile.

The swarm of people Benazir attracted on her arrival in Pakistan should have emboldened her to plough a furrow independent of Musharraf. Yet, she has her own worries. Ideally, she would want the Supreme Court to uphold the National Reconciliation Ordinance that grants amnesty to those accused of corruption. Not only will her 'sins of corruption' be washed away, she won't have to endure harassment in courts, a card the Musharraf regime could always play against her. Is she willing to risk Musharraf's wrath?

Should she decide to oppose Musharraf, her first task would be to unite the Opposition. Benazir has called for a meeting of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy. But there's already in place Sharif's All Party Democratic Movement, which includes the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Benazir was opposed to including the MMA in any alliance, saying it was part of the government in Balochistan and the NWFP—and consequently duplicitous in its opposition to the military regime. Now that the MMA has resigned from the provincial assemblies, the impediment to opposition unity has been theoretically swept aside. Most analysts agree that a combined opposition will be too hot for Musharraf to handle.

On the evening of November 7, four days after the Emergency, Benazir's supporters protesting outside Parliament were beaten and teargassed. The government also disallowed her from holding a rally on November 9, provoking her to say that she would defy the ban. Are these signs of Benazir turning against Musharraf? No, say analysts, nothing other than her arrest or an open call to her workers to join the lawyers' movement will convince them about her opposition to Musharraf. Anything less is suspicious, they say, believing she's still jockeying for a power arrangement with Musharraf and mounting pressure through public rallies to achieve her goal.

"Yes," columnist Ayaz Amir says. "The old gameplan of getting Musharraf and Benazir together is still very much there." For this arrangement to work, though, Musharraf will have to doff his uniform, lift the emergency and call for elections. But this isn't what you can call restoration of true democracy.

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