Despite its immense potential, corruption, environmental pollution and religious divisions are tearing the country’s social and political fabric.
It is unusual for military men to be tried for their crimes. General Pervez Musharraf is unlucky in this respect when he decided to return to Pakistan last March. Who advised him to do so? While on trial for the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and possible charges of treason, his chances of being imprisoned much less hanged are considered very low.
The political situation is Pakistan so precarious that few people, including the country’s president, general (retired) Pervez Musharraf, can say with certainty that the parliamentary elections scheduled for February 18 will indeed be held on time. Even if they are, there is little prospect of change unless Musharraf resigns and allows genuine civilian rule. There are widespread allegations of bogus voters’ lists, illegal use of government machinery and vehicles to support candidates allied to Musharraf, and of course of voter intimidation.
Never stable in its entire 60-year history, Pakistan has been plunged into one of its worst crises as a result of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27. Soon after her death, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf and his minions made vacuous statements about “extremists” – naturally “enlightened moderates” like Musharraf could not have done it, could they? – threatening the “security and stability” of the country and vowed to redouble their efforts to deal with them even as enraged mobs went on a rampage.
A week after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the political dust has settled sufficiently for us to hazard some analysis of the situation Pakistan faces and where it might go from here. The announcement that elections have been postponed until February 18, and the appointment of Benazir’s husband and son to lead the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – confirming it to be a family fiefdom rather than a political party in any real sense – have established some of the parameters of Pakistani politics in the post-Benazir era. And yet, in perhaps the most important ways, her death really changes very little.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has revealed a facet of Pakistani politics that is not generally known to people in the West: the extent to which Pakistani politicians act as agents of the West. Tens of thousands of Muslims are killed in political violence each year, most of of it sponsored by the West. Few are mourned as deeply as Benazir. Her assassination has been condemned by US President George Bush, the UN Security Council and a long list of other western leaders. Why should the death of one Pakistani draw so much attention in the West, when those of other – such as the girls killed in the Lal Masjid in July – are regarded with disdain?
Returning to Pakistan on October 18, Benazir Bhutto discovered how radically the country has changed in the eight years she was away “languishing” in self-imposed exile. Heading a political procession—in reality a circus of rented crowds—from the airport to the mausoleum of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Benazir’s procession was attacked by two suicide-bombers who left 140 people dead and more than 500 injured.
The Supreme Court verdict on September 28, dismissing several petitions challenging General Musharraf’s attempt to contest presidential polls while retaining his army post, has dealt a severe blow to the opposition’s hopes of preventing him from continuing his rule. There was an immediate adverse reaction on the streets; the police resorted to their customary brutality, attacking lawyers, political opponents and journalists, and a number of cameras were smashed. Protests continued as Crescent International went to press, amid signs that though the verdict might have brought some respite to Musharraf, Pakistan’s troubles are far from over.
What is the key constituency whose support all rulers of Pakistan desperately seek and need? Considering that Pakistan is looking forward to a supposed return to democracy, one might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to this question lay somewhere among Paksitan’s long-suffering people. Alternatively, bearing in mind the role that the military has played in politics for much of Pakistan’s 60-year history, thoughts might turn to the army and the officer corps.
Pakistan is again in the grip of election fever as people prepare for polls on October 10. With the leaders of the two main political parties, Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, barred from participation because of corruption charges, the election has become a localized affair.
The military regime in Pakistan has enough egg on its face over the Nawaz Sharif episode to feed a battalion. But those who expected it to behave differently should have known better.
Aware that if she were to return to her native Pakistan, she would end up in prison on corruption charges, Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader, has decided to ‘languish’ in Britain.
There was poetic justice in the conviction of Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari on corruption charges by the Ehtesab Bench of the Lahore High Court on April 15. Each was sentenced to five years in jail and fined US$8.6 million
Even the most ardent admirers of Benazir Bhutto do not deny that the former first family plundered the country’s wealth. Their defence of Benazir and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, an even bigger crook, is that it is nothing uncommon.
Had Benazir Bhutto been the prime minister of Pakistan, she would surely have said, why don’t they eat cakes in response to people rioting in Peshawar for flour. Nawaz Sharif of course is no Marie Antoinette.
Pakistan appears to be repeating its three-year cycle of political instability. On July 21, Karachi, Lahore and a number of other cities were virtually paralyzed over a transport strike organised by the opposition parties protesting against massive taxes imposed in the June 13 budget.