There's some big (and good) news out of Pakistan today: The leader of the Pakistan People's Party, Asif Ali Zardari, and the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, Nawaz Sharif, emerged from days of backroom meetings and held a press conference announcing their joint call to impeach intransigent Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
It's not so much that getting rid of Musharraf is good news (which it is, but it's also inevitable and obvious and overdue). It's that the joint announcement repairs the parliamentary coalition that, in my opinion is the obvious—although, apparently invisible to media pundits and NATO generals and U.S. Presidential candidates—solution to the Al Qaeda/Taliban "crisis" in Pakistan.
The liberal PPP is the majority party in the parliamentary coalition elected in February. (Yousaf Raza Gillani, who just visited the U.S. and played into the NYT "crisis" storyline, is the PPP Prime Minister. Zardari is the more powerful PPP chairman).
Sharif's conservative, religious PML-N is the minority partner in the parliamentary coalition.
Sharif's PML-N was starting to call the shots and gain steam as the more popular party this summer and spring when they got behind the popular lawyer's movement to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry. President Musharraf had ousted Chaudry along with several other Supreme Court judges last November, after Justice Chaudry called Musharraf's Presidency illegal. Both the PPP and the PML-N had pledged to reinstate the judges when they formed their coalition after the Feburary elections, but Zardari's PPP backed away from the pledge. (The PPP, former leader Benazir Bhutto's party, is Westernish and is wary of alienating the Bush administration, which has strongly and block-headedly backed Musharraf.)
Also: Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, feared the reinstatement of Chief Justice Chaudhry because Chaudry was/is likely to go after Zardari on previous corruption charges.
However, the main issue is Musharraf. The PPP/PML-N coalition had also promised to get rid of him. (Reinstating Chaudry was seen as the way to get rid of Musharraf.) By calling directly for Musharraf's impeachment today, Zardari has sidestepped the Chaudry issue for now and has put his party back in sync with popular opinion.
With the dissident PML-N having a monopoly on the populist anti-Musharraf movement, the status quo government was losing legitimacy and further destabilizing Pakistan. The PML-N had left the governing coaltion back in May over the Chaudry issue. With the PML-N leaving the governing coalition and gaining steam as popular agitators, Pakistan's fragile democracy was at risk. And certainly, the PPP's legitimacy was at risk. Aitzaz Ashan, the popular leader of "the Lawyers' Movement"—the movement to reinstate Chaudry and other anti-Musharaff Supreme Court judges—is a prominent PPP member who was starting to become more aligned with the PML-N thanks to the PML-N's correct reading of the crisis: Sharif joined Ashan and the Lawyers' Movement out in the streets in June. Zardari did not.
The PPP's decision today could reverse their missteps. This is good news. Zardari's sense to shore up the coalition by biting the bullet and getting on the right side of history and going after Musharraf is a boon for stability and democracy—which is the antidote to the reemergence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Western Pakistan that's fueling so much war-beat media coverage in the U.S. and causing so much hand wringing for NATO. Let's hope the U.S. reverses its missteps and has the sense to get on the right side of history now as well.
With a working, popular parliamentary coalition, the ability for the U.S. to maneuver and make bold decisions about confronting Qaeda in Western Pakistan along the Afghani border becomes easier. The bold decision? Cool it with all the war talk and get behind the PPP/PML-N coalition and help build democracy in Pakistan. And watch Al Qaeda recede further and further into the hills, metaphorically and literally.