Friday, October 19, 2007

A Hot Reception

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has survived an assassination attempt within hours of returning to the country from eight years in exile. More than 130 of her supporters weren't so lucky. Although extremists linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban had threatened to attack her with suicide bombers, the scale and timing of the blasts were still a shock.

It's tempting to look at this incident as a classic example of good versus evil. In the good camp there's Mrs Bhutto, the pro-democracy heroine with lots of popular support, twice thrown out of office in the past on trumped up corruption allegations, returning to Pakistan to take the country on from the Musharraf years. Then there are the baddies, the murderous zealots who want to see her dead and Pakistan turned into an Islamic state, that can be super-strong in how it deals with the likes of India and the US.

As often seems to be the case, these are uncertain times for Pakistan. Although Musharraf has many faults - the way he seized power in a coup and has hogged it ever since, his penchant for poncing about in his army uniform - he has managed to keep his country surprisingly stable (a relative term in this context) in the years since September 11th, when a weaker leader could have presided over a slump into anarchy. Now, after recent problems at home, such as the botched firing of a top judge, Musharraf looks weak himself, which is why he's cut a deal with Pakistan's own iron lady that would potentially allow them to share power as President and Prime Minister. But if things don't go well in the next few weeks, that slump into anarchy could happen after all.

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