Related Issue

Review/193/07: Bhutto and Shariff: Be Careful of What You Wish For, 14 November 2007

The Day the Music Died, 
The Will that killed democracy in Pakistan

I. The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto


The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi on the night of 27 December 2007 and the actions that have followed are an enormous set back to the future of democracy in Pakistan.


Bhutto’s death was a clear security failure not least given the prior attempt on her life in October 2007. For a President who justifies his power on the preservation of order and provision of security, Bhutto’s death is a serious credibility blow to Pervez Musharraf.


Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) condemns the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the failure of the Musharraf administration to provide adequate security. ACHR supports the calls for an international inquiry led by the United Nations into the assassination.


II. The Will that killed democracy 


Any credible examination of Bhutto’s life defies recent attempts by the Western media to first, present her as a champion for democracy, and since her death, beatify her. But as one observer has rightly noted, it is wrong to allow Bhutto’s record in government to be obscured by the fact of her death.


Most observers, even the most critical, can agree that Bhutto started out with democratic intentions. But Bhutto’s two terms in power were however marked by grave human rights violations. These included widespread torture and extrajudicial killings (see ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW No. 193).


Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari were also notable for astounding levels of corruption ($1.5 billion according to Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau) and nepotism. They still have three outstanding money laundering and corruption cases pending in Valencia, Geneva and London. As a party leader her democratic credentials were just shabby: she appointed herself as ‘Chairperson for Life’ of her party: the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).


But it is in death that she leaves her real legacy to Pakistan. Her Will appoints her 19 year old son, Bilawal as her successor and the new leader of the PPP, but only once he has finished his studies. So when he is ready, Bilwal can come down from Oxford and lead the Party.  In the meantime her Will states that the unsavoury Asif Ali Zardari, infamous as Mr 10% still facing corruption charges in three European courts will now lead the Party.


III. Civil society in the wilderness


In its ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW No. 193 the Asian Centre for Human Rights stated that the entry of Bhutto and Shariff destroyed the spontaneous pro-democracy movement against the Musharraf regime in Pakistan. Had Bhutto not toyed with the idea of a deal with Musharraf then Shariff would have not returned either. The protests by the judges, lawyers and civil society groups would have continued. It is unclear if the democracy movement would have had sufficient momentum but it is possible that without Bhutto’s untimely arrival Pakistan may have looked very different today. 


Today, the same civil society in Pakistan faces an even greater crisis. Many prominent personalities of civil society have failed to protest Bilawal’s anointment. 


IV. United States policy continues to fail


The United States of America’s involvement in Pakistan continues to follow a familiar path.  The US backed the dictator, Zia-Ul Haq even after hanging the democrat Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as a measure to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. In attaining its security focused aims, the United States went on to arm and train the Jihadis including Osama Bin Laden. The Soviet Union was defeated and withdrew from Afghanistan. The Jihadis took over Kabul and the Al-Queda emerged. The United States is loosing in Afghanistan and elsewhere as insurgent Jihadis appear to have been underestimated by the US. 


It is the same flawed security logic that provides the context for Musharaff’s survival as the ally of the United States, again always at the expense of democracy. It is not only Bin Laden and Co, but also the control of nuclear weapons in Pakistan that has now been added to international concern. But as long as the United States fails to recognize that there is a difference between “security” and “accountable security”, its policy will continue to fail. Military dictatorships are by definition not a good way to get to democracy and the rule of law. Both underpin stability. The longer the dictatorship continues the greater the damage they do to democratic institutions, enhancing the prospects of more radical alternatives, instability and not least further militarization. 


V. Prospects


Bhutto’s death might have provided an opportunity to challenge the power of the Army. The PPP might have once again been allowed to find the ‘People’. The PPP was founded on activism and was the only popular mass movement in Pakistan: it was the PPP who overthrew the first military dictatorship in 1968-69. The PPP could have begun a process of reform. Its election stance could have unified Pakistan’s disparate people around the calls of the democratic movement: the rule of law, human rights, democracy and uniting all those in favour of real democracy.


But Bhutto’s Will underlines her personal betrayal of liberalism, democracy and human rights. Bhutto reduces the PPP to little more than the personal property of the Bhutto family. Ownership can now be transferred through a “Will”!


There is no certainty about an election – a coup within a coup has to be a strong contender. If there is to be an election, it is unlikely that it will reflect the views of the people. In the current security dominated environment Musharraf [or (a)nother General] must be the favourite to fix the appropriate outcome. Alternatively it might be the PPP and Asif Ali Zidari.


What is certain is that the next election will not actually be about democracy at all. Rather it will be about dynasty choosing. What is equally certain is that the elections will not provide a route to the stability, democracy and rule of law so desired and urgently needed by Pakistan and its people. It will fail to provide non violent avenues for the resolution of the very legitimate and deepening grievances of Pakistan’s diverse populations and individuals. And without democratic non-violent means to resolve disputes, Pakistan’s many conflicts will only deepen. More will begin. Regional instability will grow.


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