I'm rather impressed by the prescience of this article from 5th September by senior Pakistani journalist and political editor of Geo television channel, Hamid Mir, for the Indian Rediff news service.
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's top advisers have seriously suggested applying Bangladesh's 'minus 2 formula' in Pakistani politics.That Musharaff has engineered this whole series of events to break the Bhutto/Shariff alliance which could have co-operatively managed serious resistance to his plans for martial law and continued rule, in a way that they cannot seperately, is not beyond the bounds of possibility. No-one said dictators have to be dumb. Look at the way Musharaff has gamed the U.S. for six years. Every time he hands over Al Qaeda or Taliban terrorists, they are the rogue ones who are a challenge to his own rule. Islamist terrorists who back Musharaff get safe haven and are even released after token arrests for Western consumption. Meanwhile his ISI is, according to NATO, India and Afghanistan, still the guiding hand behind the Taliban's senior leadership.
Growing political uncertainty and deteriorating law and order situation may force the Musharraf regime to follow in the footsteps of the interim government in Bangladesh.
The army-backed interim government in Bangladesh suspended general elections for one year and imposed emergency in early 2007. The Bangladeshi army also attempted to banish two former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina from politics by force (hence 'minus 2').
...Top government officials claim they are relaxed now because the US can understand the ground reality. Musharraf was serious about sharing power with Bhutto but her demands exposed her real intentions; she actually overestimated her importance and tried to grab everything from Musharraf through negotiations. She got nothing out of them but Musharraf was at least able to break the alliance between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif by engaging one of them. Both of them were thinking of returning to Pakistan by the same plane but now they are coming separately.
General Musharraf has turned down a proposal to meet Benazir Bhutto again in Abu Dhabi to push for a deal. Former British high commissioner in Pakistan Mark Loyal Grant and some influential Arab personalities are still trying their best to bridge the gap between Bhutto and Musharraf but they face many problems.
Highly placed diplomatic sources have revealed that it is not only the uniform of the President, article 58-2B of the constitution and bar on third-time prime ministership which are still unresolved, but there are many other differences yet to be resolved.
Bhutto is demanding that local bodies must be dissolved before the general elections but both the Pakistan Muslim League-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein and Muttahida Quami Movement's Altaf Hussein refused to accept this demand. Shujaat met an MQM delegation the other day in Karachi and both sides decided to set aside all their differences to save the local bodies. Many observers believe that Bhutto underestimated the 'sick man' and his party; in fact, Shujaat proved that he is more influential than the director general of the ISI and National Security Adviser Tariq Aziz who were trying to negotiate a deal with the Pakistan People's Party.
...General Musharraf also wants to avoid martial law but if the Supreme Court does not allow him to be elect again in army uniform he may take some extreme steps on the Bangladeshi model. Elections could be delayed with the imposition of emergency. The establishment may also arrest Sharif and Bhutto on their arrival in old corruption cases.
Embarassed by their long term misplaced confidence in Pakistan's conman-in-chief, US conservatives are working up a meme claiming that (as Rick Moran put it in comments to Libby's post today) "the US did more than any other country to bring Bhutto back and broker the deal that would have brought democracy back to Pakistan". However, despite a Mark Mazzetti piece for the NY Times that was subsequently cited by other media outlets around the world, there's little other evidence for that claim.
Mazzetti - aka Judy Miller's shadow - has always carried water for the Bush administration. The reports I've seen from the region say, as the article from Rediff does, that Arab states led by the UAE were the real motivators of the Bhutto/Musharaff talks and that the leg work was done by Britain's former High Commissioner to Pakistan. The White House talked back and forth in a very schizophrenic way about backing democracy but seeing democracy as an invitation to Islamists and therefore preferring Musharaff as the status quo - and this was widely reported by the US media other than Mazzetti -before eventually ending up rubber-stamping a fait accomplis and claiming to have pushed the Bhutto/Musharaff deal all along.
Rediff today quoted a former head of Indian intelligence as saying that the Bush administration must have given Musharaff its approval before he went ahead with his plan for martial law.