Pakistani powder keg

~Scroll down for update~

The political situation in Pakistani grows more tense as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, ousted in the military coup which brought President Musharraf to power in 1999, returned to Islamabad today, reports Zarar Khan for the Associated Press:

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif landed in Pakistan Monday, returning from exile to lead a campaign to topple Pakistan’s U.S.-allied military ruler who ousted him in a military coup eight years ago.

Police arrested leading Sharif supporters and clashed with others on blocked roads leading to Islamabad airport, where he arrived on board a Pakistan International Airlines flight from London.

Supporters on the flight chanted “Go, Musharraf, Go!” as Sharif’s flight taxied on the runway, an Associated Press reporter on board said.

Read the entire article at the above link.

UPDATE: According to CBS-2, Sharif was arrested and put on a plane to Saudi Arabia upon his arrival in Islamabad.

We posted in August on the negotiations between the Musharraf government and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, conducted with a view towards a temporary power-sharing arrangement on the way to the return of full and free elections. Bhutto commands greater support than Sharif, and has no direct vendetta against Musharraf, so if she can be brought into an alliance, peaceful resolution seems possible.

Sharif, on the other hand, is absolutely committed to ousting Musharraf immediately. This might be a thoroughly reasonable position, were it not for the precarious situation with the extremists.

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Deposing Musharraf would likely embolden them to incite even more violence, which could lead either to chaos or to a nervous Army taking full control. Neither scenario appeals.

Bhutto remains the last best hope for a democratic Pakistan which can stand against the Islamic fascists. She was twice elected Prime Minister – a woman in a Muslim nation – illustrating the strong roots of moderation and desire for modernization in Pakistan. Those roots can probably best be succored by a negotiated plan for Musharraf’s “retirement,” rather than a full-fledged political battle between the supporters of democracy and those who favor the Army’s “security-first” approach.

Turmoil in Pakistan constitutes a direct threat to our own security, and that of the entire region. The irony that a strong and worldly Muslim woman may be the key to overcoming the tide of Islamic extremism should not be lost, nor should the opportunity to try.

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