The Dismantling of Pakistani Democracy
We Pakistanis live in uncertain times. Emergency rule has been imposed for the 13th time in our short 60-year history. Thousands of lawyers have been arrested, some charged with sedition and treason; the chief justice has been deposed; and a draconian media law — shutting down all private news channels — has been drafted.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of this circus has been the hijacking of the democratic cause by my aunt, the twice-disgraced former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. While she was hashing out a deal to share power with Gen. Pervez Musharraf last month, she repeatedly insisted that without her, democracy in Pakistan would be a lost cause. Now that the situation has changed, she’s saying that she wants Musharraf to step down and that she’d like to make a deal with his opponents — but still, she says, she’s the savior of democracy.
The reality, however, is that there is no one better placed to benefit from emergency rule than she is. Along with the leaders of prominent Islamic parties, she has been spared the violent retributions of emergency law. Yes, she now appears to be facing seven days of house arrest, but what does that really mean? While she was supposedly under house arrest at her Islamabad residence last week, 50 or so of her party members were comfortably allowed to join her. She addressed the media twice from her garden, protected by police given to her by the state, and was not reprimanded for holding a news conference. (By contrast, the very suggestion that they might hold a news conference has placed hundreds of other political activists under real arrest, in real jails.)
Ms. Bhutto’s political posturing is sheer pantomime. Her negotiations with the military and her unseemly willingness until just a few days ago to take part in Musharraf’s regime have signaled once and for all to the growing legions of fundamentalists across South Asia that democracy is just a guise for dictatorship.
It is widely believed that Ms. Bhutto lost both her governments on grounds of massive corruption. She and her husband, a man who came to be known in Pakistan as "Mr. 10%," have been accused of stealing more than $1 billion from Pakistan’s treasury. She is appealing a money-laundering conviction by the Swiss courts involving about $11 million. Corruption cases in Britain and Spain are ongoing.
It was particularly unappealing of Ms. Bhutto to ask Musharraf to bypass the courts and drop the many corruption cases that still face her in Pakistan. He agreed, creating the odiously titled National Reconciliation Ordinance in order to do so. Her collaboration with him was so unsubtle that people on the streets are now calling her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, the Pervez People’s Party. Now she might like to distance herself, but it’s too late.
Why did Ms. Bhutto and her party cronies demand that her corruption cases be dropped, but not demand that the cases of activists jailed during the brutal regime of dictator Zia ul-Haq (from 1977 to 1988) not be quashed? What about the sanctity of the law? When her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto — my father — returned to Pakistan in 1993, he faced 99 cases against him that had been brought by Zia’s military government. The cases all carried the death penalty. Yet even though his sister was serving as prime minister, he did not ask her to drop the cases. He returned, was arrested at the airport and spent the remaining years of his life clearing his name, legally and with confidence, in the courts of Pakistan.
Ms. Bhutto’s repeated promises to end fundamentalism and terrorism in Pakistan strain credulity because, after all, the Taliban government that ran Afghanistan was recognized by Pakistan under her last government — making Pakistan one of only three governments in the world to do so.
And I am suspicious of her talk of ensuring peace. My father was a member of Parliament and a vocal critic of his sister’s politics. He was killed outside our home in 1996 in a carefully planned police assassination while she was prime minister. There were 70 to 100 policemen at the scene, all the streetlights had been shut off and the roads were cordoned off. Six men were killed with my father. They were shot at point-blank range, suffered multiple bullet wounds and were left to bleed on the streets.
My father was Benazir’s younger brother. To this day, her role in his assassination has never been adequately answered, although the tribunal convened after his death under the leadership of three respected judges concluded that it could not have taken place without approval from a "much higher" political authority.
I have personal reasons to fear the danger that Ms. Bhutto’s presence in Pakistan brings, but I am not alone. The Islamists are waiting at the gate. They have been waiting for confirmation that the reforms for which the Pakistani people have been struggling have been a farce, propped up by the White House. Since Musharraf seized power in 1999, there has been an earnest grass-roots movement for democratic reform. The last thing we need is to be tied to a neocon agenda through a puppet "democrat" like Ms. Bhutto.
By supporting Ms. Bhutto, who talks of democracy while asking to be brought to power by a military dictator, the only thing that will be accomplished is the death of the nascent secular democratic movement in my country. Democratization will forever be de-legitimized, and our progress in enacting true reforms will be quashed. We Pakistanis are certain of this.
FATIMA BHUTTO is a Pakistani poet and writer. She is the daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, who was killed in 1996 in Karachi when his sister, Benazir, was prime minister.