Benazir Bhutto's Legacy
By Husain Haqqani | Boston Globe; January 16, 2008
TOO MUCH commentary on Pakistan has focused on the flaws and feudal nature of its politics. Given the choice between flawed politicians and a military-intelligence establishment that has fostered terrorism for years, the international community - including the United States - must side with Pakistan's politicians. Politics can change. Continued rule by a nontransparent secret service with ties to militant jihadis (which is what General Pervez Musharraf represents) will always create a security dilemma.
The Pakistan People's Party's decision to elect Benazir Bhutto's 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, as co-chairmen of the party is being criticized as representing dynastic politics that does not promote democracy. A distinction must be made between dynastic politics and the politics of family legacy.
It is difficult for Westerners to understand a situation in which a well-organized political party unites around the charisma of a single family while retaining a vast pool of talented leaders. Family legacies have worked to build democracies in countries as far apart as Greece and India. The Papandreou and Karamanlis families have provided leaders for rival parties in Greece for years, and the Nehru-Gandhi family has been the focal point for the Indian National Congress. The Pakistan People's Party, like other parties with family-based leadership in Greece, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, has a lot of talent in its ranks. That talent remains available to the party regardless of who leads it.
There is a fundamental divide in Pakistan. On the one hand stands a civil-military oligarchy that thinks it has a God-given right to rule Pakistan without bothering to consider the will of the people but with the help of international (especially US) aid. The oligarchy rules with the covert machinations of a powerful intelligence service, which fixes elections, divides parties, and buys off politicians.
On the other side are politicians who question the military-intelligence oligarchy's right to rule, and pay the price by being jailed and frequently vilified. The focus on the politicians' real or perceived flaws takes attention away from the evils of the ruling oligarchy.
If, in the aftermath of the tragic assassination of Bhutto, the Pakistan People's Party had taken out time to go through the process of a party primary or intra-party election, the intelligence apparatus would have actively worked to divide Pakistan's largest opposition party with the huge resources of state at its disposal. By rallying the party base around Bhutto's son and her husband, the party has saved itself from the intrigues of Musharraf's secret services.
Some view the Bhutto legacy as a thorn in Pakistan's history. But to the family's supporters, the Bhutto name represents a wealthy family that spoke up for redistribution of wealth in an elitist state during the late 1960s, when much of Pakistan's economic growth went to just 22 major families.
The Bhuttos have not been perfect, as critics remind us often, and their stints in power did not always fulfill expectations. But the removal of each Bhutto government by military or palace coup has only added to the aura of their struggle and sacrifice.
The Bhutto legacy is comparable, say, to the legacy of Mayor James Curley of Boston or Richard Daley of Chicago. Despite their imperfections, these graft-tainted political figures were able to ensure the inclusion of otherwise disenfranchised communities, such as Irish immigrants of Boston in Curley's case, into the struggle for political power.
The PPP already has more support in Pakistan than any other faction. Bhutto's assassination has enhanced the aura of martyrdom that initially came with the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at the hands of Islamist military dictator General Zia ul Haq. For the Party to continue its push for the inclusion of the people of Pakistan in the governing process, it is imperative that it win a majority of the votes in the upcoming election.
Given the party's legacy, party unity can best be maintained and votes garnered under the leadership of the Bhutto/Zardari family. Any other leader could have been a brilliant administrator or articulate politician, but none commands the same popularity and recognition as the family members of a martyr.