The attack on Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade was inevitable. If it hadn’t occurred on the day of her arrival, it would have happened sometime later. It most likely will happen again if the history of Pakistan is any guide. What is extraordinary is that she knew something like that was bound to happen.
Mass political crowds, demonstrations and violence have become part of Pakistani tradition. In fact this has been the hallmark of South Asian democracy since even before the partition in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan and India as independent states. The amazing thing is that Benazir Bhutto, a lady of traditional breeding and privilege, would be willing to return to such an environment and seek to assume all the responsibilities and dangers that political office entails in Pakistan.
To begin with, Benazir Bhutto, who already twice has been prime minister, is extremely rich. Whether she inherited this wealth or acquired it through illegal deals — as Swiss courts and Polish, French and Spanish authorities have alleged — really doesn’t change the fact that she is, at the very least, a many multiple millionaire, perhaps even a billionaire, if her enemies are to be believed.
Why does a mature, highly educated woman (Harvard and Oxford) with three children want to enter once again into the front lines of the murderous conflict of Pakistani politics? Does she really believe her oft stated claim that she must lead her nation to true democracy, or is she simply driven to assume power by some form of perceived family prerogative?
Her father, Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, was removed as prime minister in a military coup and charged with many crimes including conspiracy to murder. He was convicted and executed by hanging. While there was an outpouring of sympathy from many world leaders for the senior Bhutto, there was a consensus that he was not totally without criminality. The conspiracy-to-murder charge was considered far too convenient by many observers who thought it was simply a device to remove Bhutto permanently from the Pakistani political scene.
The real point of all this is that Pakistan’s politics has little history of peaceful democracy, and Benazir Bhutto surely knows this. To state that “…democracy can save Pakistan from the politics of extremism preached by warlords” as she did in a recent column (Financial Times, Oct. 22, 2007) is political tautology. It may be a self-validating statement pleasing to unsophisticated masses, but hardly worthy of a Harvard graduate with a cum laude degree in comparative government.
Interesting enough, though, the combination of Bhutto and Musharraf as the “good cop, bad cop” prime minister and president in Pakistan could provide a strong front against radical Islamic influence domestically. Benazir’s claims to democratic leadership notwithstanding, the fact is that she maintains a powerful political base on which she can always count in her family’s home province of Sindh.
Musharraf may be a muhajir — one who immigrated from India after the 1947 partition and not actually born in Pakistan — but he does have his military and intelligence base and a conspicuous ability to negotiate the complex political trails of Islamabad’s politics. In spite of at least four assassination attempts against him, the general/president has shown an ability to survive and continue to manipulate.
These factors may look good on paper and justify Benazir Bhutto’s belief she can return to a leadership role, but it doesn’t cast any light on why she would want to do so. The only logical explanation is that Benazir Bhutto, aka Queen Benazir as her detractors call her, is literally driven by a need to clear her and her family’s name by once again assuming power in her homeland.
Her friends say that she is a careful and analytical person, but willful in matters important to her. Her courage cannot be doubted. That may be so, and these may be characteristics acceptable in business and even in politics in normal Western democracies, but in Pakistan there is a high potential that these traits can result in death long before one’s time.
It is fallacious in an endemically volatile society such as Pakistan to believe that “moderation and democracy,” two words Benazir Bhutto likes to use and may even believe in, will be an effective countervailing influence against organized corruption and power-driven actions of entrenched political forces. Perhaps that’s where her new best friend, the tough Pervez Musharraf, comes in.