Today one of Pakistan’s senior journalists, Mariana Baabar, lets it rip into Benazir Bhutto.
Does the PPP leader deserve it?
In your Blogger’s opinion, for someone who is so selfishly bent upon betraying the cause of democracy in Pakistan, she most definitely needs to be exposed for her behaviour
Et Tu, Mohtarma?
Benazir, Musharraf make up. Now to see if it's boon or bane
Lust for power can make even dictators do funny things—like compromise their dignity, undermine their own authority, even sup with their enemies.
Take Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. He was wont to be virulent about ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, describing her as so corrupt that she could never be allowed to return to plunder Pakistan again. In a TV chat show, he became so enraged at the host for taking her and Nawaz Sharif's names that he said he wouldn't hesitate to "kick them".
Intemperate remarks, threats, moral posturing: all was quickly forgotten after Musharraf and Benazir sealed a deal during their July 27 meeting in Abu Dhabi. There's no doubt about it, the implacable general is eating crow. Look at the developments since then—the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has withdrawn cases against Benazir in the Swiss and Spanish courts; the government isn't to pursue cases against her in Pakistani courts, leaving the judges to decide their future; it's been decided to defreeze her foreign bank accounts (estimated to have $1.5 billion); and the Sindh high court has ordered the government to seek withdrawal of the Interpol "red notices" issued on its advice.
Lust for power can do funny things to politicians as well—they become myopic, court infamy, even risk the people's support. Former editor Shaheen Sehbai left Pakistan because he feared the diabolic intent of the military regime. Today, his wrath is directed against Benazir: "Of course, all she's interested in is getting back her billions, withdrawal of cases against her and Asif Zardari and an amendment to the Constitution that would allow her to become prime minister for the third time. Party workers have never been her top priority." Adds Mir Afzal Khan, a confidant of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and now a political commentator, "She is an unscrupulous politician who's ready to throw away the sacrifices of her father—a man who had refused to negotiate with the generals, even went to the gallows for it."
Always the quintessential politician, Benazir will surely harp on aspects of the July 27 deal which show her as contributing to the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. The deal will apparently (nothing's been made public officially) see Benazir's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) abstain from the National Assembly (NA) during the vote to elect Musharraf as president in uniform. Once elected, Musharraf is to doff his uniform and conduct a free and fair general election. The new NA will then delete from the Constitution Clause 58 2-B that allows the president to dissolve legislatures. Another amendment will remove the provision that bars a person from becoming PM thrice.
But even these salutary aspects didn't cushion PPP workers from the shock of the July 27 deal. An old party hand who has braved several hostile regimes for the Bhuttos told Outlook, "The general is at his weakest. Why did Mohtarma agree to the deal? We are the followers of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheed, and we are confused.
Can't she read the mood on the street? If she returns to Pakistan through a deal with Musharraf, then many like me will sit at home rather than vote for a PPP-GHQ alliance in the polls."
The faceless PPP worker's anguish is echoed by Shafqat Mahmood, a former minister whose disenchantment with Benazir prompted him to leave the party some years ago. He feels the deal may compel Musharraf to hold a free and fair election, but it will be the PPP's Waterloo. "Should the PPP join the general and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q in an alliance, then I am sure they will get an electoral thrashing they will remember for a long time," says Mahmood.
An electoral washout for Benazir is predicted for she has forged a deal with a man who, by now, is reviled countrywide. Worse, he also appears politically isolated. As Mahmood says, "He is in a unique position where neither the left nor the right of the political spectrum, neither the conservatives nor the liberals, except a minuscule faction, are standing with him." Rahimullah Yusufzai, executive editor, The News, is emphatic: "The lawyers' movement has proved that people want rule of law, independence of the judiciary and empowerment of the masses. Cutting deals to stop this from happening is bound to haunt her and the PPP for years to come."
What's worse is the chasm between Benazir's future plans and those of PPP leaders like Aitzaz Ahsan, who was the chief defence counsel for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in his legal tangle with Musharraf. As Ahsan puts it, "The moment Musharraf announces he is going to seek election from the present assemblies, lawyers, backed by civil society, will come out on the streets once again, and push the country into the throes of yet another agitation."
So, can the Mush-Benazir deal survive the turmoil? Are voices such as Ahsan's portents of a split in the PPP? Not necessarily. As columnist Ayaz Amir sums it up, "There is a disquiet...but the PPP has fostered a culture of sycophancy and absolute docility to the point where questions may be asked of Musharraf in the Corps Commanders Conference, but not of Benazir within her party. So no fears of any mass revolt in that quarter." There's also the poor track record of those who left in the past: but for Aftab Khan Sherpao who formed his own party with some success in urban NWFP, others were consigned to the dustbin.
Benazir's apologists say she has cut a deal because she feels the PPP is the only pan-Pakistan party which could reap a rich harvest in a free and fair poll; that she knows from past experience that a win at the hustings could secure her the PM's post only if she has Washington and the army's consent. But Benazir's former aide, Kamran Shafi, scoffs at such assumptions: "This deal will never work, there is only one deal that can work and that is a deal between the politicians and the people of Pakistan. The commando can have no part in it, in or out of uniform. I bet my last Rs 100 that Musharraf will agree to wear a pink jogging suit if it keeps him in power." Well, if that happens, don't say we didn't warn you. We did say lust for power can do funny things to generals and politicians alike.