Tag Archive: Benazir Bhutto

Would Pakistan be any different today if the tragic incident of December 27, 2007 had not taken place? It certainly would be a different country even if Benazir Bhutto was in opposition. She had the benefit of having first-hand experience of dealing with the power-brokers and the real stakeholders of the country’ politics and she knew exactly how to deal with each of them. Some scenario-builders have developed various scenarios with BB still alive. They have different scenarios to conceive but the most interesting estimation of the country with BB in power has been written by Mr. Khaled Ahmed which appeared in the latest issue of Express Tribune.

According to this account, BB’s pre-election politics would have been aimed at not threatening to upset the Afghanistan strategy, a strategy with which she clearly did not agree. She would have talked to the Americans constantly through their ambassador but would have also realized that the Democrats were certainly going to win the 2009 election and that pressure on the next incumbent for US-NATO withdrawal would increase. She wanted to prevent the ‘political memory’ in Pakistan from dropping her party from the popular radar. She would have been cautious rather than rash in the country’s changed environment. But her relationship with Musharraf and the PML Q would have run into rough waters — as she had indicated in her last book and her letter to Musharraf in which she feared that certain members of the PML Q and elements in the intelligence agencies would plan to get rid of her.

Once in Pakistan, she would have taken a stance closer to the PML N– there were signs of this after the attack on her in Karachi. Her relationship with the MQM would have remained sour because of the latter’s close working partnership with Musharraf, but she would have applied pragmatism to her handling of the ANP. Returning from the wilderness and seeing all the changes in Sindh, she would have learned, however, to accept the MQM’s own ‘realism’ in not provoking the dominant Sindhi party.

Her post-election presence in the government would have been dicey because the 17th Amendment debarred both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir from premiership. In case the 17th Amendment ban was removed, Benazir as coalition prime minister would have worked, but it would have been ‘overbalanced’ by Musharraf in the presidency, calling all the shots as far as foreign policy was concerned. The coalition would be rancorous and unstable. She would have therefore relied on her counterbalancing alliance with Nawaz Sharif on the basis of the 2006 Charter of Democracy.

Nawaz Sharif, of course, would have been back, his return forced by the Saudis. Benazir would have persuaded him to take part in the elections. The post-election government in Punjab would have belonged to PML Q, but would have been harassed by the two big parties in opposition. The Mumbai attack in 2008 would have caused a political earthquake, giving Benazir more leverage over Musharraf and the army. It would have been a very divided and internecine coalition over which Musharraf would have had to preside.

Benazir would have quickly realized that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had erred in not passing on the oil price hike the world was hit by in 2007. The Indian summer of the economic boom under him would clearly have been at an end when the 2008 worldwide crisis broke and found Pakistan with its pants down, with a circular debt overhang of 300 billion rupees. She would have severely rocked the coalition boat and worked for a mid-term election.

Pervez Musharraf boasted himself to be a tough commando who would not bend and change his decisions under pressure. He may have been right; it may not be easy to pressure him to take decisions but it now seems that it was not difficult to make him change his mind. You only needed right arguments to convince him; a respectful letter, a bottle of premium whisky and a pack of Havana cigars are convincing enough arguments to melt the “man of steel”. If it was from a tabloid, the authenticity of the story could be questioned. But this has come from a respected journal like Foreign Policy.

In their article in the latest edition of the magazine, Duane Baughman and Mark Siegel narrate that the story of Benazir‘s life includes hijackings, corruption allegations, unsolved murders, and countless conspiracies. In deciding to translate her life to film, they  came in contact with Musharraf but convincing him to appear on film was not easy. The effort took a respectful letter, followed by a bottle of Chivas Regal and Cuban cigars delivered to his hotel suite in Philadelphia, where he was speaking on a tour of the U.S. to rehabilitate his image. With much flattery and a bit of arm-twisting, he was ready for a short interview.

While narrating the film-making, they list down a series of serendipitous events which contributed to the making of Bhutto. While filming the convent where Benazir was educated, the filmmakers unexpectedly stumbled upon her teacher, an elderly nun who charmingly described Benazir’s rarely examined early years. When Karachi’s chaotic streets prevented the film crew from reaching the airport to catch the only daily flight to Benazir’s mausoleum, they were saved at the last minute by a phone call from President Zardari, who held the plane — and its agitated Sindhi passengers — on the tarmac for over an hour until the film crew was safely aboard.

One of the sponsors of the film and the co-author of the referred article is a close friend of BB. The image being projected in the film, therefore, is of Benazir who was a rare and gifted leader who bridged religions, genders, and continents. She inspired millions of women to stand up against oppression and reject illegitimate restrictions on what they could achieve and who they could become. She built the first women’s police department in Pakistan, establishing for the first time a safe space where their legal grievances would be heard. She opened up the country to the international media, empowering Pakistan’s domestic media to be more vigilant. Agree or not with her politics, her story helps us better understand her country, how we got here, and why our relationship with South Asia is inextricably tied to the future of Pakistan.

We often say that Pakistan’s problems can be solved through drastic measures and such decisions which are unpopular. It is a fact that no government elected by the people and brought to power by greedy coalition partners can take such unpopular decisions, be it Zardari, Sharif or anyone else. There is, however, some ray of hope. There is one leader who is known for taking unpopular decisions. In fact the only decisions that he takes without consultations subsequently turn out to be unpopular. But he is out of Pakistan and trying hard to be able to come back and remain untouched by those who want his head to be on the chopping board. The Express Tribune has reported that the Government of Pakistan is said to be under unprecedented pressure from the rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to pave the way for a safe, secure and honorable homecoming for former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

They are also said to have asked Islamabad to initiate steps to build a favourable political image of the former military dictator and ensure that upon his return home, he will not be harassed by court cases and the police.

According to an understanding reached between the UAE and Pakistan several months ago, it was decided that the Pakistani government would facilitate Musharraf’s return as soon as the two-year bar on his participation in politics ends, sources said. Official sources claimed that the pressure had already forced President Asif Ali Zardari to curtail his visits to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

This extraordinary interest of UAE rulers in Pakistan’s internal affairs, especially in Musharraf’s political future, was thrown into light once again due to UAE’s foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al Nahyan’s covert visit to Islamabad within three days of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) announcement that Musharraf has been included in the investigation of former premier Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. He spent a mere 30 minutes with President Zardari before heading back home but, immediately after his visit, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the media that the government did not intend to question Musharraf. Rehman, on November 27, categorically said that the government had not taken any decision to include Musharraf in the probe.