THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE IS GETTING INTERESTING. In Pakistan, that is. There, the Supreme Court, headed by the recently restored Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, has cleared the way for the immediate return to Pakistan of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Gen. Pervez Musharraf removed in 1999 in a bloodless coup. Musharraf had forced Sharif into a 10-year exile, which he's been taking in Saudi Arabia. In elections widely believed to have been rigged, Musharraf "won" Pakistan's presidency in 2002.

Sharif is a rival not only to Musharraf, but also to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is said to be the U.S. choice for a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf. Already compromised by his alliance with the U.S. in the so-called "War on Terror," Musharraf was recently weakened further by the unrest that followed his removal of Chaudhry from the Supreme Court; clashes spread across the country, forcing him to return the chief justice to the bench. Word was that Musharraf wanted Chaudhry out ahead of the coming national elections in order to allow the general to carry on as head of the armed forces while also serving as the head of state -- a violation of Pakistan's constitution. Apparently, Chaudhry has some fondness for the rule of law.

The return of Sharif could be a big fly in the ointment of the purported U.S.-backed power-sharing deal, which was already looking like a "solution" of dubious character to the instability of one of South Asia's two nuclear powers. Sharif is said to intend to lead his party in parliamentary elections this fall, and declared to Reuters today, “It is the beginning of the end of Musharraf.”

Iraq may soon be yesterday's news.

--Adele M. Stan

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