Benazir Returns to Pakistan - What Next?

The Benazir factor By Nasim Zehra
The News, October 18, 2007

As Benazir Bhutto prepares to land in Pakistan after an eight-year long self-imposed exile, Pakistanis know her return qualifies as a major political event. The party her father founded almost four decades ago is still a living entity. Despite all the corruption scandals against her the party cadres, even if decreased and somewhat decrepit, are still intact. The cadres and the party supporters will no doubt put up a grand welcome for their party leader provided the government does not prevent them from traveling to the airport.

Benazir carries the name that has for the longest time ruled the hearts of the largest chunk in the Pakistani electorate. Even for its detractors and the authors of guided-democracy perpetually engaged in landscaping Pakistani democracy, the Bhutto name cannot be ignored. It is an irony of fate that those very forces that led the khaki logic of 2002 which dictated that Benazir Bhutto's electoral victory will be detrimental to Pakistan's interests, have now concluded the opposite. In a recent television General Pervez Musharraf, acknowledged that despite the corruption of the PPP, it is a party that enjoys national support. The khaki's political re-engineering project did not succeed. Musharraf's eight years failed to discard the Benazir and Nawaz factors. No new political leadership emerged. Instead the charisma of the old survived. Politics does not lend itself to 'engineering.' Instead it is the intangible charisma, among other factors, that builds the support for popular politicians.

In Pakistani politics topping the list of charismatic politicians is the Bhutto name. Despite the long list of Benazir Bhutto's political blunders, corruption scandals and other contenders for political charisma, passed from father to daughter, the name still bears, even though markedly reduced, the charismatic hold. Clean logic doesn't explain charisma. The chaos of the complex, the non-elite reality which sentiments of a large section of the society's 'have-nots' calculate, the lived experiences of the marginalized that defies the dominant reason-based discourse are the factors that comprise the context within which charisma survives. Also it is a life afflicted with tragedy and turmoil, one that lives through the pain and the anguish and still survives to play a role on the public stage, is one that becomes the stuff of charisma.

Charisma-struck Bhutto supporters tend to only selectively register the flaws of their leader. Their perception is distorted by the triple tragedy of death of a father lost at the gallows, a brother bulleted and another poisoned, forced ouster from her legitimately earned prime ministerial position, and Benazir's own years in imprisonment and a near decade away from her homeland.

The other side of the Bhutto reality her supporters have long ignored: the corruption scandals and the intolerance and inefficiencies of her governments. The Zaradari factor too, is disregarded. Her Washington connection pales before her many positive assets. Then there is the broader power context of Pakistan which, with its many contradictions and many excesses takes away peoples' ability to move beyond the realm of heroes and villains. The public experiences the ruling classes' morality constructed on shifting sands. The public wisely reckons if it's a choice between 'your crook' versus 'my crook', it would rather opt for their own crook.

Also contributing to the rise of cultish figures in Pakistan's politics, is the absence of a sustained democratic process. Such an absence prevents the weeding out the 'bad' from politics. Hence there is a logic to the popular support that exists for Benazir. Based on their experiential wisdom, derived from all else that is on offer in politics, their choice demotes acceptability of what they believe to be the lesser evil. Much of the middle class analysis of what 'ought to be' may appear to them to be an Orwellian chant of the advantaged elite.

Benazir returns to yet again benefit from the political support that this charisma accrues to her. Her dealings with the uniformed president are unlikely to be a support-loser for Benazir. Her core support will remain intact. The issues of constitutional democracy, rule of law and judicial independence have not yet become important political determinants of Pakistani politics. These issues have only captured the imagination of the urban population, which also recognizes that in Pakistan's current political scenario these will remain parallel to and not integrated in Pakistani mainstream politics. None other than the political choices that the man who was the star of the post-March movement for judicial independence, has reiterated illustrates this reality. In a recent interview Aitzaz Ahsan said he will stand by his leader and will contest on the PPP ticket. He is okay with his leader's deal with the man he argued repeatedly must vacate the presidential position. By his political support for Benazir, Aitzaz has endorsed Benazir's position that for a smooth transition engaging with a uniformed president is all right.

In the 2002 elections the PPP polled 29 per cent of the votes that were cast. The response to her post-arrival politics in the various provinces, and especially in the NWFP, will indicate Benazir's likely electoral support in the coming elections.

Meanwhile Benazir's public support and her charisma factor notwithstanding, her arrival in Pakistan will pose hurdles for her that she must cross at least in her return to active electoral politics. One, the nervousness of the Musharraf government and of the ruling party as Benazir opts for active politicking. There is room for Bhutto-Musharraf tension given that there is no comprehensive political accord between the two. She entered into an only issue-specific engagement with general Musharraf. Hence once on the election trail, at the hustings her party's traditional political positions vis-à-vis the army in politics, the PML-Q and the MQM will also be articulated. Also Musharraf's stated displeasure at Bhutto's pre-election return may mutually queer the pitch. In short, it's not guaranteed that Musharraf-Bhutto alliance will be all smooth-sailing in the days ahead. Musharraf 's right hand men in the PML-Q are likely to opt for a policy of political bickering with the PPP.

Two, the media trial that will be conducted on issues ranging from corruption to engaging with a military ruler and from the Washington connection to her pro-Washington position on the global war on terrorism and on extremism within Pakistan. The media has repeatedly raised the paradoxes of Benazir's political careers. It is the media that is sympathetic of her personally and concurrently harsh towards her politically. Meanwhile armed groups in Waziristan have repeatedly issued death threats against Benazir for what they view as pro-Washington policies against terrorism. Three, the return of the Sharifs to Pakistan could potentially cut into her vote-bank; especially in Punjab and in the country's urban constituencies. As the voice of a genuine national level opposition the Sharifs pose the biggest challenge to the Bhutto bid for power. As a party positioning itself as an anti-establishment nationalist democratic party the PML-N is the flag bearer of 21st century radical politics of Pakistan. Meanwhile the ruling party's political contours, beyond being a Musharraf-mentored party, have yet to emerge.

Finally, how Bhutto scores in the latest round of electoral politics notwithstanding, what is relevant is Benazir's ability to deliver on the crucial challenges that the Pakistani state, society and politics face – the challenge of being able to effectively arrest the growing violently promoted internal ideological and political discord. Her existing credentials to meet this challenge do not appear to be strong.

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst. Email:


Anonymous said…
With disgust

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

THE New York Times, August 6, 2003: ‘Bhutto Sentenced in Switzerland — A Swiss magistrate has found former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband guilty of money laundering.

They were given six-month suspended jail terms, fined $50,000 each and were ordered to pay US$11m to the Pakistani government. The six-year-long case alleged that Ms Bhutto, who lives in exile in London and Dubai, and her husband, Asif Zardari, deposited in Swiss accounts $0m given them by a Swiss company in exchange for a contract in Pakistan. The couple said they would appeal.’

Swissinfo (, Oct 9, 2007: ‘Amnesty spells trouble for Swiss Bhutto case — ... Daniel Zappelli, the general prosecutor of Geneva, is facing a quandary. Should the politician and her husband stand trial now that Bhutto has been granted an amnesty by her own country?...The couple was first convicted of simple money laundering in 2003 by a Geneva investigating judge who handed down a six-month suspended sentence.

The Bhuttos appealed against the magistrate’s decision but were later accused of more serious money laundering offences… Dominique Henchoz, the lawyer representing the Pakistani government in Geneva, said it was still not clear whether legal action would be stopped. “We’ll have to wait to examine the exact wording used in the decree,” he added. “Because surely to speak of an amnesty implies that there has been an act of corruption.”...The case opened in 1998...The three investigating judges in Geneva who have dealt with the file for a decade found that Bhutto and her husband received $2m (SFr14.25m) in Swiss bank accounts belonging to companies registered in the Virgin Islands and Panama…Vincent Fournier, one of the three judges, has confirmed his office is about to pass on the case to the prosecutor. “It is surprising to note that for 10 years Pakistan has constantly pushed us to see that justice be done. And now, in the light of a change of political allegiance, Madame Bhutto benefits from an amnesty.”’

Crystal clear, is it not? The couple stand convicted of corruption.

Benazir Bhutto was convicted for simple money laundering in 2003. She appealed against that sentence and under a quirk of Swiss law the matter was automatically reopened. She is now being prosecuted for aggravated money laundering, which is a far more serious offence and carries a longer jail sentence. The matter has dragged on for years, partly due to her delaying tactics, but mostly due to the National Accountability Bureau’s incompetence and failure to raise the matter forcefully for reasons best known to it — or perhaps under orders from the ‘high-ups’.

It must be remembered that she has been prosecuted for money laundering which is a criminal offence under the laws of Switzerland, but which, at the relevant time, was not a crime in Pakistan. In Pakistan she was in fact prosecuted for corruption, while in Switzerland she was prosecuted for money laundering which offence, it is important to note, took place exclusively in Switzerland.

Since the prosecuting authorities are Swiss it is legally completely possible that her prosecution can continue in Switzerland. However, viewing the matter in terms of practical politics, i.e. expediency, chances are that the government of Pakistan will try to prevail upon the Swiss authorities to drop the proceedings.

The Swiss authorities may either reject this manoeuvre on the part of the government as being patently a politically motivated ploy or alternatively decide that since the GoP, which has been illegally deprived of millions of dollars, has no desire to reclaim this money for the benefit of the poor deprived people of Pakistan there is no particular reason why they should proceed with the prosecution.

Let us look at it this way — if someone has been mugged in the street and deprived of his money and decides to bestow it upon the robber as largesse, rewarding the mugger, that is his option. The only difference in this case is that the money did not belong to President General Pervez Musharraf, nor did he consult the people of Pakistan before deciding to bestow it upon Benazir.

If reports be true, the money laundering does not stop in Switzerland nor did it cease post Oct 12, 1999. According to reports in our press and a story posted on the website of Pakistan Times (, NAB has disclosed last week that it has made an International Mutual Legal Assistance request to the Spanish government for information on a trail of money leading to Spain through Swiss banks starting in the year 2000-1 when, reportedly, Benazir, henchman Rehman Malik (former additional director of the FIA during her prime ministership, a fugitive from Pakistan where he is wanted for corruption but covered by this monstrosity of an amnesty) and relative Hassan Ali Jafferi registered two companies, Petroline and Tempo Global Gains, both Free Zone (offshore) companies, in Sharjah.In 2001, Petroline opened two bank accounts in a Spanish bank, and Tempo did the same in 2002. Copious amounts of money were transferred into these accounts from Switzerland and the UAE. Reportedly, the High Court of Valencia has appointed an examining magistrate to investigate the affairs of the shareholders in the two companies — Bhutto, Rehman and Jafferi — and the competent Spanish authorities have frozen the two companies, their bank accounts and a villa in Marbella and entrusted prosecution to the office of the public prosecutor of Valencia.

If there be truth in all this, one must wonder what the Swiss judicial authorities think of it all in light of the criminal amnesty, a matter now in our Supreme Court and sub judice.

The rantings and ravings of the few PPP diehards who insist that the amnesty is the best thing to have happened to Pakistan since its creation are centred on the excuse that many, or all, of the corruption cases filed in our courts against Benazir and her husband were not only ‘politically motivated’ but that due to their snow-white innocence nothing could be proven against them. Again, one must ask why there was never a guilty or innocent verdict handed down? Fine, even if we admit that the cases filed in Pakistan could be tainted politically, such is not the case in Switzerland, or indeed in Spain. One can hardly accuse the Swiss and Spanish governments of political victimisation.

One positive — nay, excellent — factor to emerge from the promulgation by a man unable to relinquish power of the disgusting National Reconciliation Ordinance, which has had the opposite effect to reconciliation as far as the people are concerned, is the reaction of the literate and illiterate 170 millions of Pakistan.

They know they have been duped, that they do not know the truth, and have no fear in saying so in no uncertain terms. This ordinance, promulgated by a man who preaches enlightened moderation, stands equally ignominious and abominable (for different reasons) as the Hudood Ordinances of the reviled President General Ziaul Haq.

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