US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrives in Pakistan this morning to see what can be saved from the chaos of General Musharraf's rule. Mr Negroponte is one of America's hardest diplomatic hitters and it is significant that President Bush has sent him to Islamabad rather than his nominal boss Condoleezza Rice whose influence with Musharraf has been close to zero. Negroponte will probably first try to persuade Musharraf to leave the army, call off the state of emergency, mend fences with Benazir Bhutto and confirm the date for parliamentary elections in January. However, he will also be exploring the options for a Plan B in the event that Musharraf decides to give up the struggle to contain the unrest in the nation and elects to resign. This possibility is apparently under urgent consideration in Washington which once again is having to deal with the consequences of backing a single leader, rather as it did with the Shah in Iran thirty plus years ago.
Unfortunately any Plan B will almost certainly have to be based on a continuation of military rule, at least until elections can be held. The name most frequently mentioned is that of General Ashtaq Parvez Kayani, who is thought to be a moderate pro-Western infantry commander. General Kayani would need an assurance that the flow of billions of dollars from the United States would continue if he took power. But an extension of military rule, even under new management, will only prolong Pakistan's agony.