Disturbing signs

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. With her died the hopes of millions of Pakistanis. And like most people, her death has shaken me to the core, though I was not a great fan of her politics. Yet the uncertainty her death has generated looms over this country and bleeds the heart of every Pakistani.

The foremost casualty of this tragedy is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), whose future hangs in the balance. The co-chairperson of the PPP, Asif Zardari, is a controversial figure due to many charges of corruption, etc., in which he was allegedly involved. After Ms Bhutto’s unfortunate death, controversy again enveloped Mr Zardari when he said that Benazir Bhutto’s ‘will’ would not be made public. What has made this statement come under scrutiny is that according to the ‘will’, Ms Bhutto appointed her husband Asif Ali Zardari as the party chairman. When this ‘will’ was read before the PPP’s Central Executive Committee, Mr Zardari refused to become the new chairman and appointed his son, Bilawal Zardari (who has now been rechristened ‘Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’), as the new chairman of the PPP. Since Bilawal is merely 19 years of age and still a student, Mr Zardari became co-chairman to run the affairs of the party till Bilawal completes his studies and is able to run the PPP as its head. Interpreted, it means that Mr Zardari would be the man with real power in the PPP. This has cast doubts in many minds, including PPP faithfuls, that Mr Zardari, in his role as kingmaker, could impose his will and wishes on the PPP, causing it further damage.

On the other hand, making Bilawal (Bhutto) Zardari the Chairman of the PPP has set tongues wagging about the policy of keeping the party leadership firmly in the hands of a Bhutto and thereby turning it into the fief of a dynasty. Natural sympathy for Bilawal notwithstanding, it should not be forgotten that he has lived outside Pakistan most of his life and is not really groomed to take over the reins of a popular political party, which has a presence in all provinces and Azad Kashmir and acts as a glue to unite the country. That aside, even if the PPP has to remain within the Bhutto family, the most deserving candidate, many believe, is the charismatic Fatima Bhutto, daughter of late Murtaza Bhutto. She is the heir apparent, instead of a Zardari who has only added ‘Bhutto’ to his name, yet cannot become a Bhutto. Fatima Bhutto’s supporters are convinced that she is more qualified for heading a party founded by her grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She is perceived to be well-versed in the intricacies of Pakistani politics, which makes her an ideal candidate for the PPP’s leadership. Surely, if the general elections are held on February 18, the PPP will win the sympathy vote created by Benazir’s assassination and may also come to power. But will it be able to survive in power and also as an effective political force is open to question. The coming years may also witness a tussle between the Zardaris and the Bhuttos led by Fatima Bhutto for the chairmanship of the PPP.

Indeed, Benazir Bhutto’s murder has far-reaching repercussions, not only for her party but the country as well. The mayhem that followed her death, though not unexpected, was quite unprecedented. In the ensuing protests, many people were killed, petrol pumps set on fire, banks destroyed, shops ransacked and torched, railway coaches and railway stations burnt and vehicles smashed to smithereens. Even hospitals were not spared in that madness. But the most sinister was the targeting of the Punjabis in Sindh. It was because some Sindhi nationalist parties laid the blame for the killing of Benazir Bhutto, who had a mass following in all provinces, at the doorstep of Punjab. MQM’s Altaf Hussain did not help the matter either by making outrageous claims that ‘three Sindhi leaders (Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto) have been assassinated in Rawalpindi, Punjab’. These emotive and irresponsible statements only served to fan the rage of the Sindhis against the Punjabis and fuelled ethnic clashes. Of course, playing the ‘Sindh card’ at this critical juncture is tantamount to stoking anarchy and as such, must be avoided.

It is not in the country’s interest to exploit the tragedy of Benazir’s killing for petty, narrow parochial interests. The political parties in particular must therefore avoid deriving mileage out of this mishap and instead mobilise the masses to foster unity. There is also a remote chance that if all parties are able to rally the masses around the single point of restoring genuine democracy in the country, we may have one. In the wake of a unified voice, the military, which is indeed alive to national aspirations, could go back to the barracks and help usher in true civilian rulers. After all, it is the internal disunity of our political class that has been used as an excuse by the military to come out of the barracks time and again. If unity is shown, this trend could be reversed. For the moment, the initial unity among the political parties that Benazir’s death engendered seems to be waning. It is being replaced by a fresh round of mud-slinging – a telltale sign of politicians’ failure to rise above their immediate interests. At least, Benazir’s death has not changed this despicable tradition.


henmen said…
sad but true...like your analysis...keep writing
terry5732 said…
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Oh wait a sec, he IS the old corrupt boss isn't he.

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