TRIANGULATION, PAKISTAN-STYLE. The Associated Press is reporting that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have reached a power-sharing deal that, should their respective parties together retain a plurality of votes in the coming parliamentary elections, would allow Musharraf to hold on to his position as president and permit Bhutto to return to Pakistan from her exile to stand for prime minister. At least that's how I'm understanding this, thanks to Griff Witte and Imtiaz Ali of the Washington Post. South Asian politics are always a bit baffling to at least this Western mind.

The fly in the ointment here is the Pakistan Supreme Court's decision to allow former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return from his exile. Sharif has sworn to end the rule of Musharraf, the army chief who unseated Sharif in a 1999 coup d'etat.

In the deal with Bhutto, Musharraf has said to agreed to "taking off his uniform," as the saying goes. But this is Pakistan, where the army has ruled for so long -- even under ostensibly civilian governments -- that it's impossible to believe that the specter of Musharraf in a business suit or shalwar kameez will make a whit of difference. Both Bhutto's and Sharif's governments were known for their corruption, so it's difficult to see what the beleaguered people of Pakistan -- a nation caught between hard-line Islamists, a control-freak army, kleptomaniacal civilian rulers, and U.S pressure to ignite a holy war -- really get out of this deal.

A great primer on how Pakistan got to be the way it is today is found at National Geographic's site.

--Adele M. Stan

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