By Hassan Abbas (THE GUARDIAN, 01/01/08):
Prospects of democracy in Pakistan were rising when Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif returned to the country and decided to contest elections. Movement for the rule of law spearheaded by lawyers and civil society actors in response to the unlawful deposition of the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, since March 2007 was also a healthy development for the country. However, Musharraf started backtracking on the understanding he had developed with Benazir as his political allies were getting uncomfortable with the reception she was getting across the country.
And then came the assassin's bullet - in a professionally executed, targeted killing - raising important questions about the role of elements from within the establishment. In an email to me last October, Benazir, while analysing threats to her life, maintained that the real "threat [is] not from US perceived angle but estab[lishment] elements".
The resultant chaos has shaken the state's foundations and federation. The PPP has a huge task ahead under the new leadership of Benazir's 19-year-old son Bilawal and his father Asif Zardari - a combination of youth and experience guided by the Bhutto legacy. It is quite likely the PPP will sweep the coming elections, benefiting from an additional sympathy vote across the country.
Such an eventuality would give Pakistan another chance to be rescued. Musharraf, on the other hand, is becoming irrelevant, and there is a growing possibility the military leadership will distance itself from him to return to its professional job and regain people's confidence. Such a scenario requires sagacity on the part of the political and military leadership. The past provides little comfort in this regard, but one hopes that Benazir's sacrifice will pay off, ushering Pakistan towards a progressive democratic order.