Daily Times : Editorial: The BB-Musharraf equation

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Editorial: The BB-Musharraf equation

October 24, 2007

Ms Benazir Bhutto has expressed dissatisfaction with the first official report submitted to President Pervez Musharraf on the October 18 suicide-bombing on her rally, and has disclosed some more information to a foreign TV network about who she thought had conspired to kill her upon arrival. She maintained that she had reciprocated, through her own letter to him, President General Pervez Musharraf’s friendly gesture of asking her to delay her arrival because he had information that she would be attacked.

Ms Bhutto is supposed to have named three persons as suspects. She says that the names were given to her by a “friendly” country. They were “people with powerful positions in government” who could be plotting against her, “including a close friend of the president”. One person named by her is, according to the media, the current IB chief, an old ISI officer, whom the government has praised in its latest note rejecting Ms Bhutto’s request that he be removed. But if she insists on having her way, her equation with the president could be jeopardised.

The equation that BB and President Musharraf have been talking to each other about in a process of mutual comprehension is based on “need”. Each “needs” the other to advance his/her interests. Thus most people in Pakistan have interpreted the dialogue as a “deal” based on two opposed opportunisms: namely, BB’s political comeback and President Musharraf’s survival as a champion of the anti-terrorism war with little domestic political support. However, what no one deems important is the affinity of their worldviews, the sort of “blindsiding” public impression that prevails about President Musharraf’s equation with the MQM. Before and after her arrival, Ms Bhutto was careful in framing her statements, avoiding all negative personal references to him. But this relationship can come under strain unless President Musharraf can maintain an ambiguity of approach acceptable to all his partners on the left and right of him.

By pinpointing the unnamed “friend of the president” Ms Bhutto has sharpened the journalistic instinct in Pakistan of joining the dots. So the names that have cropped up are: the Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, IB chief Ijaz Shah, and ex-NAB officer and current secretary to governor Punjab, Hasan Wasim Afzal, who had pursued the cases against her abroad. Ms Bhutto has made the guessing game difficult in regard to the third person by complaining about another civil servant who had allegedly tortured Mr Asif Ali Zardari during incarceration in 1999. He is said to be a senior police officer in Sindh, Manzur Mughul.

There are two other names that have been mentioned in conversations between BB’s men and the President’s men. We gather one is a retired general with avowed Islamist and anti-BB and anti-Musharraf views who fancies himself as a strategist, and the other is a retired brigadier who once served under Nawaz Sharif. Both once worked in the ISI and conspired to overthrow her government.

The act of naming names began as a gesture of mutual confidence but could now threaten the equation Ms Bhutto had developed with President Musharraf. How will the president react to this situation? Judging from the latest reaction to the PPP “demands”, not very amicably. But before one accepts this line of argument one must not forget that President Musharraf is also communicating with BB through the MQM, and that process is moving along so nicely that it may not be to the liking of the PMLQ.

The BB-Musharraf equation will never be satisfactory, but it is not likely to be broken. That is the nature of the many ambiguities of the man who arouses mixed emotions about his role all over the world. His conservative backers have realised that he won’t ditch the MQM to please them; the PPP will also have to realise that while he needs the upswing of moderate forces the PPP has provided him, he will not ditch the PML conservatives he keeps around him as a kind of “defensive poison” in the face of the terrorist enemy he faces. Ultimately any assessment of him in history will have to deal with his profound “personal” ambivalences.