It’s 5:30 am CDT Sunday as I start to write this in Kansas, and on Kiritimati (Christmas Island,) they are a half-hour into Monday already. Monday, 9/10 is the day that Nawaz Sharif, the deposed and exiled ex-prime minister of Pakistan vowed to return.
Even though he signed an agreement not to practice politics in Pakistan for ten years, and even though the Saudi Government is beseeching him not to, the crowds of supporters are traveling by bus to greet him in Islamabad. Rumor has 700 chartered buses going to meet him, in a city still recovering from the aftermath of the Lal Masjid standoff. If there is a motorcade, it will likely pass within a couple of blocks of the Red Mosque, if not directly by it.
There are arrest warrants out for Nawaz Sharif’s brother for a shooting incident, and Nawaz himself remains under corruption charges left over from the 90’s — either or both could be arrested as soon as they return.
While everyone paints Musharraf as dictator, it’s really quasi dictatorship at worst, but good propaganda by his opponents. This can be seen by his compliance with the recent court ruling clearing Chief Justice Iftikhar, and by his attempting through the courts to stop Nawaz’s return rather than issuing a decree. He is subject to the will of the National Assembly and the courts when it comes to the constitution and the rule of law, and he could lose in the upcoming elections.
The last time there was a large gathering to meet a political figure in Pakistan there was rioting and fighting between factions. (In Karachi, May 12 as crowds gathered to greet Supreme Court Chief Justice Chaudry Iftikhar.) Recently a discussion between political groups (PPI and PML) near the airport turned into a grenade fight, and passions tend to shoulder aside all logic in Pakistan when crowds gather.
In the frontier provinces of North and South Waziristan, hundreds of soldiers are still held hostage by the Taliban, and 63 shops were blown up for selling “non-Islamic” goods. More letters of warning have gone out to shop owners in Swat, and Musharraf is facing direct insurrection from the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces under Baitullah Mehsud, and an unknown leader in North Waziristan. (Possibly “Al Tunis”)
Against this backdrop security is tightening as police and troops move in to contain any possible violence, and known radical activists are being rounded up. Politics, like religion in Pakistan, is liable to get bloody and violent so one editorial in the Daily Times wonders if 9/10 will be Pakistan’s 9/11.
In the background Musharraf works to make a deal with Benazir Bhutto, and that seems about to close as they get closer to the issue of “Wardi”, or the uniform, and when Musharraf’s dual role as head of the army and President will end.
Pakistan faces momentous events hours from now, and the world will be watching for the outcome.