Global Edition of The New York Times | Jan 1, 2008
The Boston Globe | Jan 2, 2008
By Imaduddin Ahmed
Analysts are lamenting the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, calling it the death of hope for democracy in Pakistan. Benazir certainly had popular support throughout the country. Her martyred father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Pakistan’s first elected prime minister and founder of the Pakistan People’s Party, had the force and charm of a socialist demagogue. Adding glamour to the inherited chairmanship of the party and the romantic tragic legacy, Benazir won the support of unthinking masses both at home and abroad.
Despite the prevailing opinion, Benazir’s death may offer new hope for democratic values: rights, the rule of law, and law enforcement.
Benazir Bhutto gave Pakistan false hope of these enlightened values two decades ago. In a shocking display of ineptitude, Pakistan’s first woman prime minister failed to pass a single piece of major legislation during her first 20 months in power. According to Amnesty International, Bhutto’s particular brand of democracy while in office – in the words of historian William Dalrymple, “elective feudalism” – brought some of the world’s highest numbers of extrajudicial killings, torture, and custodial deaths. Transparency International characterized hers as one of the world’s most corrupt governments.
Bhutto revealed her true colors during an interview when she was asked whether she would travel second class as leader of the opposition under the Nawaz Sharif government’s austerity measures. In fury, the “people’s representative” asked the interviewer if he knew who she was, who her grandfather was, and stated that she was a Bhutto, not an ordinary person, and that Bhuttos never traveled second class.
As much as anything, Bhutto’s recent about-face on the issue of supporting an independent judiciary has been galling.
Bhutto issued repeated statements while in exile that rebuked President Pervez Musharraf for ousting the chief justice of Pakistan and undermining the judiciary’s independence. Yet after Musharraf passed the National Reconciliation Ordinance in October 2007 without trouble from a purged judiciary, Musharraf won Benazir over: The ordinance allowed him to withdraw pending cases of corruption against her.
Bhutto changed her tune. She claimed that the judiciary that Musharraf had purged may not have been independent anyway. Moreover, Bhutto is said to have issued an ultimatum to her right-hand man, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, who was also lead counsel for the deposed chief justice. She informed him that either he was with the chief justice or with the Pakistan People’s Party. The Cambridge-educated politician-cum-human-rights lawyer remains under house arrest and a supporter for judicial independence. He also withdrew his application to contest the elections.
Unfortunately, Bhutto’s unashamed hypocrisy has constantly been overlooked by Pakistan’s hopeless masses and also by her Western allies, a constituency that she gave utmost importance. In the West’s desperation to find a formidable answer to Pakistan’s mullahs and increasingly dictatorial generalissimo (Musharraf), it overlooked Bhutto’s ugly track record.
Bhutto was a moderate Muslim with pedigree, Western degrees, and irresistible promises. She had seductive charm. Nobody but she (foolishly) promised the United States access to Pakistan’s tribal areas. Nor had anyone else avowed to give up the national hero A. Q. Khan, the scientist who developed Pakistan’s nuclear capability and then shared the technology with North Korea.
Now that Bhutto’s blinding glamour has been extinguished, the approaching sham elections may be seen for what they are. People may now hear the opposition parties’ indignant allegations that the election commissioner and caretaker government are anything but impartial, and that the state machinery is being used to campaign for pre-selected candidates. Attention may now return to Musharraf’s megalomaniacal attack on the country’s most important institutions, without which it cannot hope to have fair and free elections: Pakistan’s judiciary and media.
Hope for the restoration of democratic values may become stronger in Pakistan now that Benazir Bhutto is gone. Her hypocritical endorsement of affected elections yanked the rug from under the feet of those who pushed for a semblance of democracy. The true champions of democratic values are the likes of Aitzaz Ahsan: lawyers, independent judges, journalists, and nonfeudal politicians who are boycotting the elections. They fight for an independent judiciary, fair elections, a free media, and just punishment for terrorists. They live. Hope lives.