Yesterday, the dictator had to eat humble pie. Buffeted by a gale of public disenchantment he clandestinely (but not secretly enough) met with Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi to salvage his future.
On the very day of the meeting The News (Friday, 27 July 2007) reported:
According to sources, Musharraf, during his six-day long discussions with his top military aides in Rawalpindi after the restoration of the chief justice, is said to have been advised that the best thing for him to do is to seek an “honourable exit”.
They said Musharraf did not react to these suggestions for the time being. He is expected to make a decision after his return from Saudi Arabia. He is likely to raise this issue with the Saudis to find a way out of the political “mess” without any loss of face, the sources said.
They said the absence of General Musharraf from public engagements since the historic judgment of the Supreme Court has raised questions in the minds of both politicians and media persons.
The silence of an otherwise articulate Musharraf has given currency to reports that all was not well at the presidency. His decision to visit the UAE and Saudi Arabia without any earlier announced schedule has given rise to the speculations in London that in his last ditch effort Musharraf was trying to seek help of his Saudi friends.
A source revealed that he had received reports from certain government quarters that General Musharraf was not expecting that the Supreme Court would restore the chief justice and with it his chances to get himself re-elected would be buried.
This judgment, he believed, has come as a major shock for Musharraf. It is said that during these six days of “isolation” at his Rawalpindi residence, Musharraf discussed with his top civilian and military aides and friends how to revive hopes of his re-election for next five years.
The sources said there was a consensus in the presidential camp that Musharraf was in such a situation that even the political support of Benazir Bhutto, or any other leader like Maulana Fazlur Rehman, could not bail him out.
He was told that now the ball was in the court of the chief justice of Pakistan. Sources said there was a strong perception among his friends and aides that even if the chief justice wanted to bail Musharraf out, he could not do so because of the high expectations people have developed after his restoration as the top judge.
Musharraf was now at the dead end of the tunnel…
What was obviously overlooked in the report was his intended furtive meeting with the PPP chairperson.
Clearly Musharraf, who is believed to be dependent on a coterie of handpicked advisors who were chosen for their loyalty rather than competence, has been living in a fanciful world of his own creation. The fact he came to firmly believe that the Supreme Court judgment would go in his favour is indicative of this state of delusion.
Right now he must be a bewildered man clutching at any straw to regain his lost authority. On the other hand Benazir Bhutto is known to be a wily political operator. Testing the current wind, she will dangle a line just to see what results from it. She is not rushed for time as she is aware that as each day passes Musharraf becomes all the weaker. Either he will eventually offer what she wants from him, or she will exploit the time and opt for any advantageous alternate opportunity that comes her way.
On the other hand if Benazir Bhutto enters into a deal with the military dictator at the expense of the public mood, she will in due course pay a heavy price for her opportunism. Never in the 60 year history of Pakistan has the public been so galvanised against the army's involvement in politics; and if she helps prop up a drowning Musharraf, Bhutto's perceived act of betrayal will not be forgiven by most Pakistanis.
Subsequent to posting the blog I came across Stratfor largely reflecting similar views to mine:
Stratfor has been saying for several months now that the Musharrafian state is in the process of unraveling. As per our prediction, Musharraf now must seek the help of mainstream political forces to deal with the growing crisis of governance and an Islamist insurgency. Moreover, the recent tensions with Washington over the U.S. threats to engage in unilateral military action against jihadists in the country's northwest -- which quickly followed the restoration of the Supreme Court's chief justice -- seem to have been the last straw.
There also were reports July 27 that Musharraf's corps commanders and agency heads have asked him to step down, another development we had anticipated. Stepping down does not necessarily mean that Musharraf would leave the political scene altogether. Rather he likely will be forced to relinquish the post of army chief and try to stay on as a civilian president while sharing powers with a coalition government led by Bhutto following parliamentary elections.
At this stage it is unclear whether Musharraf will be successful in his efforts to reach a compromise -- as these efforts could be too little and too late.