The shifting sands of Pakistani politics

May 5, 2009

Some readers have suggested that Pakistan’s politicians close ranks to beat back the Taliban advance, and that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party re-unites with the ruling coalition as a first step.

It is an idea that seems to be gaining traction, going by a spate of media reports  The Financial Times said that Sharif could consider joining a unity coalition led by President Asif Ali Zardari, citing a senior member of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Muslim).

It quoted the politician as saying that Sharif wanted to reassure foreign powers, especially the United States, he had no intention of trying to de-stabilise the year-old  government.

The reports come just before President Barack Obama sits down with Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington for security talks and at a time when concern over Pakistan’s stability in the face of the Taliban gains has reached fever-pitch.

Pakistan’s Dawn said key western capitals seemed to be pushing, or at least, hoping for a reunion between Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and Sharif’s group. The two could form a formidable alliance and send a powerful signal of a united face against the militancy, it said. The PML (N)’s popularity in the key province of Punjab – where many expect the next wave of militancy - and Sharif’s right-of-centre conservative credentials could help bolster the PPP in its battle with the militants.

But is Sharif going to take the bait? Dawn says it perhaps makes more sense politically for his party to watch from the sidelines while the Zardari government struggles with the militancy, deploys the military option and further loses public support.

And what of Sharif? Even if western capitals have discovered virtues in him in this hour of Pakistatan’s battle with militants, can the former premier long accused of sympathies for hardline Islamist groups really be seen as the choice of the West? Wouldn’ t that be the kiss of death even before he started out in the prevailing climate in Pakistan?

“Once in a position of authority or high office, Nawaz is certain to disavow U.S. support because identification with the U.S. in the present political climate is tantamount to political, and possibly actual, suicide for a Pakistani politician,” argues Nightwatch, an intelligence analysis website.

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