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Benazir’s democracy chant sounds hollow

delhi Updated: Sep 13, 2007 02:38 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
Benazir’s democracy chant sounds hollow

Over the past 60 years, Pakistan has had one constant: an omnipresent army. Even Benazir Bhutto, its best-known preacher or practitioner of democracy, has often said that her country has just two institutions: the fauj and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Another very incisive comment credited to the former premier who’s on the verge of ending her self-willed exile, relates to the judiciary. She says her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 1979 hanging was a “judicial murder” orchestrated by the then military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq.

Such vignettes of history are relevant to what the future holds in store for Pakistan. But first the imponderables: can Benazir swing an authentic joint venture with Pervez Musharraf without antagonising the people and her party cadres; is a change of heart possible towards the PPP leader of whom the civil-military dispensation has been forever distrustful?
A major difference between now and the time ZAB was sent to the gallows is that the higher judiciary is no longer in the army’s pocket.

It is spearheading, in fact, the campaign triggered by Musharraf’s bid to muzzle the Supreme Court and disregard thereafter its diktat of a safe passage back home for Nawaz Sharif, another two-time premier who is Benazir’s main
domestic competition. Tales abound in Islamabad these days of the General’s diminishing options and Benazir’s seemingly ivory-tower pronouncements of numero uno status. “The PPP and I are the most popular leaders in Pakistan,” she told CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar in an interview recorded after Sharif’s widely publicised deportation to Jeddah.

At once amused and anguished by her claims, some of Benazir’s erstwhile admirers in the Pakistani media point to the similarities between her critique of Sharif and that of the pro-army Quaid faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q).
Left to herself, she’d have one believe that she’s under no pressure from the US to patch up with Musharraf, its poster boy in the global war against terror. At the same time, she insists that Mian Saab (Sharif) “compromised his position” by involving the Saudis and Lebanese to secure freedom
in 2000.

“She’s carried away by her own propaganda,” remarked a Pakistani journalist, recalling her self-defeating hyperbole that her’s isn’t a support for Musharraf; it’s for a “transition” to democracy.

“We are supporting the holding of fair elections,” she argued, conveniently ignoring the fallacy of an election without the direct participation of the foremost leader of her main political challenger, the PML’s Nawaz faction.

Indeed, an election without Sharif campaigning upfront will have little legitimacy. But that perhaps is the cushion Musharraf secured for self and Benazir by throwing out the PML leader.

With him around, there were chances of a repeat of the 1997 polls that saw PPP cadres stay home rather than vote for a corruption tainted Benazir then doing her second stint as PM, in what turned out to be a walkover for Sharif.

Two ironies are built, therefore, into the model co-authored by Benazir for Pakistan’s return to democracy.

One, her willing acceptance of a rigged political line-up and two, the possibility of the space ceded by a leaderless PML(N) going to the very fundamentalist forces the US seeks to contain by encouraging a power-sharing pact between the army and an elected leadership.

Pretty embarrassing for Benazir could be the fact that the judiciary will be siding with the people while she teams up with the mindset that denied justice to her father.

A case this of the wheel coming a full circle.