Bhutto's return bodes poorly for Pakistan --
and for democracy there.
By Fatima Bhutto
Times" - -- KARACHI
-- We Pakistanis live in uncertain times. Emergency rule has
been imposed for the 13th time in our short 60-year history.
Thousands of lawyers have been arrested, some charged with
sedition and treason; the chief justice has been deposed; and a
draconian media law -- shutting down all private news channels
-- has been drafted.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of this circus has been the
hijacking of the democratic cause by my aunt, the
twice-disgraced former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. While she
was hashing out a deal to share power with Gen. Pervez Musharraf
last month, she repeatedly insisted that without her, democracy
in Pakistan would be a lost cause.
The reality, however, is that there is no one better placed to
benefit from emergency rule than she is. Along with the leaders
of prominent Islamic parties, she has been spared the violent
retributions of emergency law. Yes, she now appears to be facing
seven days of house arrest, but what does that really mean?
While she was supposedly under house arrest at her Islamabad
residence last week, 50 or so of her party members were
comfortably allowed to join her. She addressed the media twice
from her garden, protected by police given to her by the state,
and was not reprimanded for holding a news conference. (By
contrast, the very suggestion that they might hold a news
conference has placed hundreds of other political activists
under real arrest, in real jails.)
Ms. Bhutto's political posturing is sheer pantomime. Her
negotiations with the military and her unseemly willingness
until just a few days ago to take part in Musharraf's regime
have signaled once and for all to the growing legions of
fundamentalists across South Asia that democracy is just a guise
It is widely believed that Ms. Bhutto lost both her governments
on grounds of massive corruption. She and her husband, a man who
came to be known in Pakistan as "Mr. 10%," have been accused of
stealing more than $1 billion from Pakistan's treasury. She is
appealing a money-laundering conviction by the Swiss courts
involving about $11 million. Corruption cases in Britain and
Spain are ongoing.
It was particularly unappealing of Ms. Bhutto to ask Musharraf
to bypass the courts and drop the many corruption cases that
still face her in Pakistan. He agreed, creating the odiously
titled National Reconciliation Ordinance in order to do so. Her
collaboration with him was so unsubtle that people on the
streets are now calling her party, the Pakistan People's Party,
the Pervez People's Party. Now she might like to distance
herself, but it's too late.
Why did Ms. Bhutto and her party cronies demand that her
corruption cases be dropped, but not demand that the cases of
activists jailed during the brutal regime of dictator Zia ul-Haq
(from 1977 to 1988) not be quashed? What about the sanctity of
the law? When her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto -- my father --
returned to Pakistan in 1993, he faced 99 cases against him that
had been brought by Zia's military government. The cases all
carried the death penalty. Yet even though his sister was
serving as prime minister, he did not ask her to drop the cases.
He returned, was arrested at the airport and spent the remaining
years of his life clearing his name, legally and with
confidence, in the courts of Pakistan.
Ms. Bhutto's repeated promises to end fundamentalism and
terrorism in Pakistan strain credulity because, after all, the
Taliban government that ran Afghanistan was recognized by
Pakistan under her last government -- making Pakistan one of
only three governments in the world to do so.
And I am suspicious of her talk of ensuring peace. My father was
a member of Parliament and a vocal critic of his sister's
politics. He was killed outside our home in 1996 in a carefully
planned police assassination while she was prime minister. There
were 70 to 100 policemen at the scene, all the streetlights had
been shut off and the roads were cordoned off. Six men were
killed with my father. They were shot at point-blank range,
suffered multiple bullet wounds and were left to bleed on the
My father was Benazir's younger brother. To this day, her role
in his assassination has never been adequately answered,
although the tribunal convened after his death under the
leadership of three respected judges concluded that it could not
have taken place without approval from a "much higher" political
I have personal reasons to fear the danger that Ms. Bhutto's
presence in Pakistan brings, but I am not alone. The Islamists
are waiting at the gate. They have been waiting for confirmation
that the reforms for which the Pakistani people have been
struggling have been a farce, propped up by the White House.
Since Musharraf seized power in 1999, there has been an earnest
grass-roots movement for democratic reform. The last thing we
need is to be tied to a neocon agenda through a puppet
"democrat" like Ms. Bhutto.
By supporting Ms. Bhutto, who talks of democracy while asking to
be brought to power by a military dictator, the only thing that
will be accomplished is the death of the nascent secular
democratic movement in my country. Democratization will forever
be de-legitimized, and our progress in enacting true reforms
will be quashed. We Pakistanis are certain of this.
Fatima Bhutto is a Pakistani poet and writer. She is the
daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, who was killed in 1996 in
Karachi when his sister, Benazir, was prime minister.
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