Would Pakistan be any different today if the tragic incident of December 27, 2007 had not taken place? It certainly would be a different country even if Benazir Bhutto was in opposition. She had the benefit of having first-hand experience of dealing with the power-brokers and the real stakeholders of the country’ politics and she knew exactly how to deal with each of them. Some scenario-builders have developed various scenarios with BB still alive. They have different scenarios to conceive but the most interesting estimation of the country with BB in power has been written by Mr. Khaled Ahmed which appeared in the latest issue of Express Tribune.
According to this account, BB’s pre-election politics would have been aimed at not threatening to upset the Afghanistan strategy, a strategy with which she clearly did not agree. She would have talked to the Americans constantly through their ambassador but would have also realized that the Democrats were certainly going to win the 2009 election and that pressure on the next incumbent for US-NATO withdrawal would increase. She wanted to prevent the ‘political memory’ in Pakistan from dropping her party from the popular radar. She would have been cautious rather than rash in the country’s changed environment. But her relationship with Musharraf and the PML Q would have run into rough waters — as she had indicated in her last book and her letter to Musharraf in which she feared that certain members of the PML Q and elements in the intelligence agencies would plan to get rid of her.
Once in Pakistan, she would have taken a stance closer to the PML N– there were signs of this after the attack on her in Karachi. Her relationship with the MQM would have remained sour because of the latter’s close working partnership with Musharraf, but she would have applied pragmatism to her handling of the ANP. Returning from the wilderness and seeing all the changes in Sindh, she would have learned, however, to accept the MQM’s own ‘realism’ in not provoking the dominant Sindhi party.
Her post-election presence in the government would have been dicey because the 17th Amendment debarred both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir from premiership. In case the 17th Amendment ban was removed, Benazir as coalition prime minister would have worked, but it would have been ‘overbalanced’ by Musharraf in the presidency, calling all the shots as far as foreign policy was concerned. The coalition would be rancorous and unstable. She would have therefore relied on her counterbalancing alliance with Nawaz Sharif on the basis of the 2006 Charter of Democracy.
Nawaz Sharif, of course, would have been back, his return forced by the Saudis. Benazir would have persuaded him to take part in the elections. The post-election government in Punjab would have belonged to PML Q, but would have been harassed by the two big parties in opposition. The Mumbai attack in 2008 would have caused a political earthquake, giving Benazir more leverage over Musharraf and the army. It would have been a very divided and internecine coalition over which Musharraf would have had to preside.
Benazir would have quickly realized that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had erred in not passing on the oil price hike the world was hit by in 2007. The Indian summer of the economic boom under him would clearly have been at an end when the 2008 worldwide crisis broke and found Pakistan with its pants down, with a circular debt overhang of 300 billion rupees. She would have severely rocked the coalition boat and worked for a mid-term election.