In short, its a win-win for most parties involved except for those seeking to return to power. In all likelihood, President Musharraf is here to stay (like General Zia) until the US feels it is had enough of him. The US policy toward Pakistan is based on a pragmatic “better to be safe, than sorry” philosophy. With the current US obsession with the war on terror, this policy is unlikely to change anytime soon.
There was an article in the Washington Post by Benazir Bhutto, making a plug for returning Pak to democracy and requesting the West to re-consider ongoing support for President Musharraf’s military regime. The article did make several good arguments though it was highly self-serving. The reality of the political situation in Pak is that the two main alternatives to military rule, Nawaz Sharif and Ms. Bhutto herself, have had their opportunities in the past and during which time earned little credibility to speak off. Ms. Bhutto is widely believed to have lead one of the most corrupt Governments in Pak history. Mr. Sharif on the other hand, gave us the Kargil (his pronouncements after his ouster not withstanding) war against India. If any of the civilian governments in Pak over the years had taken some bold steps to make lasting peace with a vibrant democracy like India, the overall environment in the region might have been very different from what it is today. Unfortunately, successive civilian governments in Pak have all been corrupt, consistently meddled with India (and now with Afghanistan), done little to curb religious extremism, all while enjoying the largesse of the US.
Historically, civilian rule in Pak has never really worked and has always been short-lived. In the current environment, it is even less likely to be successful and could possibly be dangerous if an extremist government came to power. It is increasingly obvious that there is an alarming rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. This has been further accelerated by the spill over from the troubles in Afghanistan. Pak’s role in instigating trouble in Kashmir is universally accepted, its 9-11 roots have been established, to name a few other signs of trouble. Under the circumstances, ironically, a military dictator whose survival is precarious, offers the best bet. He can successfully keep all the warring factions at bay, clamp down the troublesome democracy proponents, sporadically capture terrorists to appease the West, occasionally talk peace with neighbor India but never remain really committed to it, cozy up to China from time to time, but ultimately give the US a freehand in the fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan etc.