With Benazir Bhutto planning a major rally, having clearly decided that any premature deal-making with Musharraf would be political suicide, the Pakistani opposition is entering a crucial phase. Will they be able to work together and create a united movement? Or will it split between different factions, leaving the General to sweep up the cards?

Bhutto is clearly being constructed by the West as a sort of home-grown Aung Sung Suu Kyi – partly true, in that she owes her career to being a daughter of a previous, assassinated, leader. But Suu Kyi has never been (or had the chance to be) found out on corruption charges as Bhutto – an elite establishment politician – was in the 90s.

And her “leadership” of the opposition is a brilliant achy bet. Having been on the verge of preshrink with Musharraf, she is now calling a demonstration in Rawalpindi, rather than the capital.

What the crisis has made most visible is the utter leaderlessness and impuissance of the US, when faced with a real problem to its interests, and not merely shadow players like Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Two days after the state of emergency was declared, Bush had still not called Musharref – a repeat of his Katrina performance. In the vacuum, the US Congress has taken a march, challenging the $1bn US aid to Pakistan. In reply to questions on Bush’s inaction, quoth a spokesman in words we all could have guessed: “At this point, the president judges that the messaging has been right.”

Complicating matters further is the possibility of a third coup – against Musharraf, by other elements within the army, and news that a Taliban-style group have taken control of a town in the Swat valley, four hours drive from Islamabad.

Take-over of these areas would make it easier for the Taliban to operate in Afghanistan, and hasten their recapture of the country. As the central-casting named General Perkovich noted, the US can’t operate in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s help.

The silence elsewhere is perplexing too. Israel’s frontpages for example have little or nothing on the crisis in the one state that could become a force that could match their substantial nuclear arsenal, focusing, as with the US, on Iran, which strikes one as delusional.

Mind you there’s a lot of it about. What the Pakistan crisis is doing is focusing attention on the legitimacy of national nuclear weapons, and what we are going to do about them in the twenty-first century. Pakistan was “our ally against terror”, so a blind eye could be turned to its terrifying arsenal. Now it might become a part of the ever-growing annexe of evil. Does that mean it forfeits its right to nukes? Doesn’t every nation however psychotic have that right? Or none?

Of course by next week, Musharraf may be back in control and it’ll be another Myanmar (Burma). Remember Myanmar (Burma)?

But the larger question won’t go away.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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