Pakistan: Looking Ahead

The elections must go ahead
Hassan Abbas, Guardian's Comment is free.., December 31, 2007
Click here to see a shorter version in today's Guardian

Pakistan is reeling in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's murder, as anger and overwhelming sadness drive its people towards hopelessness and violence. In the midst of all this, the government is foolishly trying to distort the facts surrounding Bhutto's killing by trying to shift the blame from its own incompetence and possible involvement. Without credible elections, restoration of the independent judiciary and effective curbs on the activities of the country's intelligence agencies in internal affairs, Pakistan cannot be rescued from a certain slide into more chaos.

Pakistan's history is full of cover-ups and Bhutto's murder is proving to be no different. Innumerable acts of violence creating choreographed instability in the country, abrupt dismissals of various governments and assassinations of many political and military leaders remain uninvestigated, or unresolved and shrouded in mystery.

Repeated martial laws and military interference in politics is the leading cause behind Pakistan's failure to develop democratic institutions and a culture of accountability. An "insecurity" complex inspired the country's military to meddle in regional conflicts and pursue a secretive "foreign policy", for which the country is paying through its nose today. Shortsighted and uninformed policy decisions of the United States and the west, pertaining to Pakistan in particular and south-west Asia in general, further added to the problems in the region. For instance, the aftermath of the western-sponsored and supported "jihad" in Afghanistan in the 1980s is still haunting the region, as well as the rest of the world.

Coming to the present scenario, prospects of democracy started to rise when Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif returned to the country and decided to contest elections. Movement for the rule of law spearheaded by lawyers and civil society actors in response to the unlawful deposition of the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, since March 2007 was also a healthy development for the country. However, Musharraf started backtracking on the understanding he had developed with Bhutto, as his political allies began to feel uncomfortable with the reception she was getting all across the country.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that, since mid-November, some hardliner and extremist elements within the Musharraf camp have been saying Bhutto was pursuing an "American agenda" to "topple Pakistan's army" and get rid of the nukes - a conspiracy theory. Some Pakistani journalists and analysts closely aligned with Musharraf started producing "news analysis" to this effect soon afterwards (for a glimpse, click here). Intriguingly, a video clip was also telecasted from some media outlets (eg ARY TV and PTV) on November 29 showing that Islamabad police had confiscated a vehicle in the capital city with around two-dozen American M16 and Israeli Uzi guns. Clearly, this was an attempt to suggest that the US and Israel were planning to create violence in the country. The clip zoomed in on markings on the US weapons which read: "Property of the US government". Many media channels that deciphered the deceptive motive of the "news item" refused to run it.

Statements made by Bhutto which were critical of the role played by Dr AQ Khan in nuclear proliferation were also hyped by government media managers. Despite all these manipulations and disinformation, her political campaign continued to gain momentum. At this point (around mid-December), Musharraf started to make statements challenging Benazir's support base and refused to accept her demands regarding election matters and provision of adequate security for her. And then came the assassin's bullet - in a professionally executed targeted killing - raising important questions about the identity of the killers and the role of elements from within the establishment. In an email on October 24, Benazir, while analysing threats to her life, maintained that the real "threat [is] not from the US perceived angle but estab[lishment] elements".

The resultant chaos has shaken the state's foundations and federation. PPP has a huge task ahead under the new leadership of Benazir's 19-year-old son Bilawal and his father Asif Zardari - a combination of youth and experience guided by the Bhutto legacy. This is in line with south Asia's democratic traditions - where individuals and their backgrounds are often deemed more important than institutions because of the public's emotional ties to charismatic leaders. It is quite likely that PPP will sweep the coming elections, whether held on January 8 or a bit later, benefiting from an additional sympathy vote all across the country.

Such an eventuality, if uninterrupted by the military establishment, will give Pakistan another chance to be rescued. Musharraf on the other hand is becoming increasingly irrelevant and there is a growing possibility that military leadership will distance itself from him and return to its professional job and regain people's confidence. Such a scenario requires acumen and sagacity on the part of political and military leadership. The past provides little comfort in this regard, but one hopes that Benazir's sacrifice will pay off, ushering Pakistan towards a progressive democratic order.


Anonymous said…

The Destabilization of Pakistan

Interesting prespective
Bhutto and democracy, an oxymoron, a joke. Its Nepotism and kleptocracy at its best.
which is defined in as:
patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics: She was accused of nepotism when she made her teenage son Chairman of BPP. Bhutto's People Party.

I assume either you are real naive, or just a real royalist waiting for a payback time.

I do not buy the notion of The ultimate sacrifce, which was made by the people of Pakistan who got killed and their properties burned.

Just think about it. This can olny happen in country ridden by great loyalist one like yourself.
Immagine someone like yourself one day
some wise gay from Harvard advising George Bush to appoint daughters Jenna and Barbara as the next Pres. and VP of THE USA, and why not Bill Clinton just appointing his daughter as the next President. At least these women have now some kind of college degrees. I also just wonder the US media not to say any word on such kind of gruesome nepotism.

Hasan by the way, your Blog has more freedom of speach without censorship, than the entire BPP.

any comments?
Anonymous said…
With Allah's Name, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
Assalamo Alaikum.
See the Party which claims to be struggling for 'Democracy". How they killed the democracy and merit. Please observe the following:
1) Mr. 10 % presented a fraudulent will to justify his theft of PPP
2) Instead of electing Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan as President of PPP, who did the most work for democracy and judiciary they chose a person who robbed Pakistan, always spent good time in posh hospitals e.g. PIMS and then staged a drama of "Maray Jail Kay Saheeo" (My prison friends" He occupied a full private hospital wing with all facilities including his two dogs whom he used to hug before proceeding to the court. He always got hot food from PPP office in Islamabad. He had dish antenna and other facilities. He deprived many patients from admission in the hospital during that 24 months or so. In Karachi he stayed in the 5 star suit specially built for him by Sr. Asim of Ziauddin Hospital. BB used to visit him there and got pregnant. That was the jail for Mr. 10% who admitted in the court that Surrey Palace is his, of course from theft money.
3) A party so deeply non democratic and non merit is portrayed by shameless media of Pakistan as the one which is struggling for restoration of democracy and sign of Federation. You must be joking!
Anwar Ul Haque, MD
Anonymous said…
Mr. Abbas,
I have been a reader of your blog for several months and thoroughly enjoyed your book. It presented a vey balanced view on Pakistan's troubled history. I was a lttle disappointed with this article, though. Lets be honest.....Benazir was no saviour. As you noted in your book, she was guilty of more than just the inability to break the shackles the army had placed her in. It is truly sad how the PPP has now officially become the Bhuttos personal fiefdom. Wouldn't it have been much better for the country to hand the reigns over to someone like Aitzaz? As you will have to admit......Benazir was quite envious of the attention he was getting of late. She also made it a point never to call for the reinstatement of the pre-November 3rd judiciary.All this being said, her death is a tragedy for pakistan. The point you raise about Ahmed Quraishi is well taken, though. I am sure he is being paid off by the ISPR or ISI. The kind of crazy convuluted theories he is propagating are ludicrous. The trouble is, people seem to be buying them!
Hassan Abbas said…
Thank you all for your comments. I have deleted some of the comments which were clearly uncivilized and malafide.
I understand the nature of the criticism here and I absolutely agree that Benazir committed many mistakes and even blunders.
However, my point is that her killing cannot be justified on any grounds and we need to probe who killed her and why. I hope none of you agree with political murders.
Secondly, in my view, Pakistan's federation is in real danger and PPP is an important party that can save the country at this juncture. When democratic process will continue, then automatically new leaders will come up and feudalistic and dynastic politics will end. Now the question is what is the biggest hindrance to democracy in Pakistan. Think about it - in my view it is military that co-opts some feudals (mostly Punjabi) and derail democracy on one pretext or the other. If Benazir and Nawaz Sharif would have been allowed to complete their terms in 1990s then masses would have rejected them in the next elections (because of poor performance) but instead military dislodged them through hatching conspiracies and in the end these leaders continued to be seen as saviors. The only difference is that this time around Benazir returned knowing that she can be killed - and in my assessment she had learnt her lessons and wanted restoration of democracy and wanted to challenge the religious extremists. She was not taking a life risk for the sake of power.
Anonymous said…
Mr. Abbas,
Don't worry!! Cover up of murder like im 70s is not possible any more in age of camera in every cell phone. Why do u think youtube is so popular!
It has been proven beyond doubt that mushy the pussy, chima and his lotas lied!! Just look at the footage obtained by channel 4.
I absolutly do not agree with the politcal murder which cannot be justified on any ground and we definately need to probe who killed her and why and definatly bring her killers to justice.
But still cannot buy your other arguments and it is hard to swollow and digest your other arguments. Democracy is not Nepotisim and Fiefdom. Its Bhutto and Sharif who killed the democracy during their term as "rulers of Pakistan".
As far as Federation is danger, I think its a bogus Idea plotted by BPP. How many and how long chances should be given to persons like Bhutto and Sharifs. Since when PPP become "democratic"? Z.A.Bhutto himself killed democracy by becomming the "Top Dog" of West Pakistan.
By the bay you never answerd the Nepotisim and as to how a teenager can save the federation, which you dodged very nicely. Another question dodged and would like to be addressed is about FBI (US) investigation of Bhutto's killing. This should be tied along with the corruption during Bhutto/Sharif tenure also to be conduted by The American FBI. Whoever found guilty should be ready to face American Justice.
Anonymous said…
Mr. Abbas,
I do agree with you in essence. It is obvious to me that BB was not allowed to govern in her first term because of ISI/army interference. Her second term, to me was shameful. She tried to bring the judiciary in line, but failed where Nawaz succeeded, maybe because she wasn't as morally depraved as he was?! The problem I have with you argument is that like all the others, the PPP is made up of feudal lords who are more than willing to go to bed with the army to preserve their lifestyles. It is truly sad that the PPP is the only national, secular party in Pakistan, and that now it has become a personal fiefdom for the Bhutto clan. I, however agree that Pakistan can only move forward if the military lets events play out and allows democratically elected politicans to complete there terms in office, does not interfere with elections and stays in the background. The trouble is that every time these so called democrats get into office and find themselves in a sticky situation, they turn to the COAS to bail them out! BB tried to do that with Waheed Khakar when Leghari was becoming too big for his boots, remember? I think the only hope for the country is a return to the ORIGINAL 1973 constitution, a new law categorially stating that any amendments to the document made without the necessary two thirds majority vote amounts to an act of treason and to actually try Musharraf for treason after he falls......and he will fall.

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