A discredited former prime minister, back in Pakistan after eight years in exile because of corruption charges, Miss Bhutto has won sympathy across
Pakistanand beyond. Condoleezza Rice, Americas secretary of state, Sonia Gandhi, the leader of Indias ruling
Congress party, and many other world leaders called to commiserate with her. With an election due by January, this flood of attention has helped persuade some PPP zealotsaround 200,000 of whom were in Karachi to greet their leaderthat Miss Bhutto will become prime minister for a third time. This is possible. Yet fresh twists in Pakistans political turmoil are certain.
The most pressing doubt surrounds the terms of her homecoming. She was granted an amnesty this month by General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistans president. In return, Miss Bhutto ordered her party not to resign from the parliament when General Musharraf got himself re-elected president by its membersin uniform, though the constitution seems to forbid itthe following day. This trade-off was a product of year-long power-sharing negotiations between Miss Bhutto and General Musharraf. As the next stage of these negotiations, Miss Bhutto is seeking guarantees that General Musharraf will not rig the election against her party, as he has done before. If the PPP proceeds to win power, it might then offer him its support. For the time being, however, both the generals re-election and the amnesty for Miss Bhutto (and other allegedly corrupt politicians and army officers) are being contested in the Supreme Court.
Whatever the judges decide, Miss Bhutto should be safe from prosecution, since the government has already shown that it does not want to press charges. In General Musharrafs case, which is expected to be decided early next month, the judges have expressed a fear that if they rule against him, he will declare martial law. So it would be surprising if they did so. Assuming they do not, General Musharraf will probably hand in his army papers in the next week or two, and be sworn in again as president on November 15th. National and provincial assemblies would be dissolved the next day. And Mr Musharraf would appoint caretaker federal and provincial governments to run the country during its election season.
A more profound uncertainty, as the global attention on Miss Bhutto may indicate, concerns Pakistan. It is violently divided and, as the current turmoil shows, lacks even the blueprint for a stable government. For 32 of its 60 years, Pakistan has been ruled by soldiers. In the intervals it has had precarious civilian administrations, including 20 civilian prime ministers in as many years. To optimistsincluding America, which has pushed ita deal between General Musharraf, representing the army, and the PPP, Pakistans biggest party, offers the best hope of ending the seesaw between military and civilian rule. At a time of dreadful insecurityincluding a wave of Islamist terrorism, of which the Karachi blasts were almost certainly an examplesuch an arrangement, it is hoped, would offer short-term stability and promise more meaningful democracy. For many Pakistanis, including within the PPP, however, it would be a marriage of irreconcilables, doomed to collapse.
Meanwhile, with the deal in doubt, Miss Bhutto and the government are trading blows. She accuses senior members of the government and security services of being behind the blasts. Presumably facetiously, the leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, says Miss Bhutto was herself the terrorist, with the aim of drumming up sympathy. On October 23rd the PPP claimed the government had banned Miss Bhutto from leaving the country. There will be further bickering if the government goes ahead with planned restrictions (on security grounds) on political gatherings. This would not be unreasonable; besides Miss Bhutto, suicide-bombers have in recent years tried to kill Pakistans president, prime minister and interior minister. Yet the PPP, the most effective rabble-rousing party, would suffer more than others.
This handicap might make Miss Bhutto even more willing to do a deal with the general. Despite winning sympathy over the blasts in Karachi, the PPP probably cannot win an outright majority. It would also struggle to form a coalition with other opposition parties, most of which are incensed by Miss Bhuttos dealings with General Musharraf. On the other hand, his loyal supporter, PML (Q), almost certainly cannot secure a majority either. So the general seems to have two options. Either he could try to recruit Mr Sharifs party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), perhaps by co-opting Mr Sharifs brother and political ally, Shahbaz, to line up with the PML (Q). Or he could try to recruit the PPP.
The second outcome is marginally more likely. Mr Sharif is a bitter enemy of General Musharraf; the general toppled him in a coup in 1999 and turfed him out of Pakistan, for a second time, last month. He is currently in Saudi Arabia, while Shahbaz Sharif is said to have spurned the generals advances. And yet an alliance between the PPP and PML (Q), with the prime ministership going to the party that won the election, would also be rancorous. Mr Hussains father was a political enemy of Zulfikar Ali BhuttoMiss Bhuttos father, a former prime minister, who was hanged. He was murdered by followers of Miss Bhuttos brother, Murtaza, who was himself shot dead in 1996, during Miss Bhuttos second government.
The Economist Newspaper Limited 2007