What is the key constituency whose support all rulers of Pakistan desperately seek and need? Considering that Pakistan is looking forward to a supposed return to democracy, one might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to this question lay somewhere among Paksitan’s long-suffering people. Alternatively, bearing in mind the role that the military has played in politics for much of Pakistan’s 60-year history, thoughts might turn to the army and the officer corps. Some people, remembering that the country was created as a state for the Muslims of British India, and the growing popularity of Islamic groups since the US invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan, might look to the ulama or the madrassas.
Benazir Bhutto, however, clearly knows better. The two-time former prime minister, whose rule was marred by misrule and corruption, is hoping to be restored to power by the support of the US, regarded as the devil incarnate by most in her country. Although she has maintained sporadic contact with Musharraf since he came to power, mainly because he has enjoyed US support and therefore she wanted to maintain contact with him, the power-sharing talks between them this summer were brokered by the US because it feared for Musharraf’s continuing ability to do his job for them. Although the results of these talks are not clear, Benazir is now trying to supplant Musharraf as the US’s favoured leader in Pakistan.
To this end, she attended a meeting of Congressmen in Washington on September 25 to try to convince them that she could be a more effective leader of Pakistan for them. Although the White House and neo-cons supported her, Democrats in Congress have been regarded as more sceptical of Benazir’s claim to be capable of restoring order in Pakistan. Addressing Joseph Biden, the Democratic chairman of the US Senate Committee of Foreign Relations, she argued that Musharraf had failed to fulfil his brief to suppress the Taliban and counter extremism, and that only a civilian government under her leadership would have the credibility and standing to pacify the border areas. Among other things, she argued that the involvement of the military in politics had encouraged Islamic extremists to try to infiltrate the military to prevent it from fighting them effectively.
As Benazir prepares to return to Pakistan on October 18, her hope is clearly that the US will transfer the support currently being given to Musharraf to her instead, knowing that this is essential for her to be able to return to the position and power that she craves.