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A Bhutto in Pakistan

Bhutto wants a role to steer Pakistan away from the abyss at a time when Islamists in Pakistan want all women behind the purdah, writes Vikram Sood.
None | By Vikram Sood
UPDATED ON OCT 30, 2007 12:36 AM IST

The ecstasy and the agony of Benazir Bhutto’s return were all too evident in the first few hours of her second homecoming. She had arrived to a tumultuous welcome and a violent wake-up call, which seemed to have come much too early in the campaign. In the last eight years that she was away, Pakistan had changed immeasurably — maybe even permanently, and much more since her first homecoming in Zia-ul-Haq’s time in 1986.

At the time of her first return from exile, Pakistan was on the same side as the US in the Afghan jehad, although the people were running out of patience with Zia. Besides, India was on the backfoot in the Punjab, there was uncertainty in Kashmir, and Pakistan was the internationally-acclaimed frontline State against the Soviets. This time, Bhutto has returned when anti-US sentiment is high on the streets, Pervez Musharraf is seen as an American stooge and her deal with him has been cobbled together in the US. She is being viewed as just another American tool to extricate a sinking Musharraf.

In contrast to 1986, Pakistan is today widely acknowledged as the epicentre of international terrorism. And very few have a solution to this growing problem. Bhutto has returned at a time when Taliban clones stalk the corridors of power in Islamabad and roam the streets of Karachi and Peshawar. Osama has a higher approval rating than Musharraf. And a cricket captain has had to apologise to the “entire Muslim world” for having lost a match to India. What kind of a mindset have they conjured up in Pakistan?

Bhutto wants a role to steer Pakistan away from the abyss at a time when Islamists in Pakistan want all women behind the purdah. Besides, parts of the North West Frontier Province have become safe havens for al-Qaeda, and religious extremism is mixed with the Pushtun nationalism that transcends the Durand Line, with the Pakistan army unwilling or unable to take on the Islamist militants. The army, determined to pacify Balochistan through force, is losing the battle of hearts and minds and relies on the extreme right-wing forces of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam to counter the nationalists. Pakistan may have changed irretrievably into Pakistan Extreme. It is these faultlines that many Pakistanis, Indians and, indeed, the rest of the world seem to deny.

One would imagine that Bhutto would have carefully thought out her return before taking the plunge. Hopefully, she did have the time to go through Robert Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Power. Law 29 (‘Plan All the Way to the End’) recommends that the ending is everything. Careful planning, taking into account all possible consequences, obstacles and twists would ensure that glory does not go to others. Bhutto has only got the National Reconciliation Ordinance, while Musharraf has not discarded his uniform, has not abrogated Article 58 (2) (b), which gives him powers to dismiss the PM, has not given any indication that a third term as PM would be possible and has not disbanded the National Security Council that gives him extraordinary powers through this super-cabinet. She thus remains at a disadvantage.

Hopefully, there will be elections, where the next lot of leaders will be selected. Musharraf has already given his preference — the PML(Q) of the Choudhry Brothers. The script could be something like this. In case Musharraf finds Bhutto winning the popularity contest in the Punjab, he will import Nawaz Sharif, who began his political life in the Punjab as an army protégé, to counter her. It is still early days, but then, the PML factions could merge and form a government with the MMA or its remnants, maybe with Maulana Fazlur Rahman as Prime Minister. So, unless Bhutto has planned it to the end, glory may go to others.

Bhutto must have taken into account that there will be attempts to assassinate her or frighten her away. One more such attack and Musharraf will certainly order that she be secured in a fortress to prevent any harm. This brings into play Greene’s Law 18 — ‘Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself; Isolation Is Dangerous’. This says that isolation exposes the leader to more dangers and security lies in mingling and having allies. A campaign has already begun, saying that innocents are dying because Bhutto has come back despite advice to postpone her visit. Except that there is a slight modification to this. Isolation will be imposed on her to prevent her from campaigning, and will simultaneously portray a frightened Bhutto.

Bhutto has made some very courageous statements about tackling terrorism and extremism. All this would need reconciliation with the army, as terrorism cannot be tackled without its active involvement. Yet, the army has been tutored to fight enemy India and is not trained to battle internal insurgent forces. This could easily cause fissures within the army. Also, there are elements within the army who are opposed to any reconciliation with her. They would demand a price from her, and what would that be? Or would they be happy to have Bhutto as a convenient scapegoat? This would enable them to disassociate themselves with governance at a time when their image has taken a severe beating, and thus come back with their image refurbished. One does not see the army totally receding from the scene in the foreseeable future.

Arrangements worked out in the salons of New York and London are usually about power-sharing among feudal politicians, well-connected bureaucrats and industrialists and the army. But they tend to unravel quickly as they are removed from the ground reality and do not take the people into account. Then, cynics say that after years of subservience to dictatorial regimes, maybe the people have discounted themselves.

Pakistan’s current status as a global destabiliser is explained as a manifestation of life-long insecurities. In trying to overcome them, the State has become delinquent, mollycoddled by offshore balancers far too busy in securing their own fortunes. The result is that today, the Pakistan State has to go to a correctional home. It can no longer seek security through adventures in Afghanistan and India. Instead, it has to provide assurance of continued good behaviour towards its neighbours. Only this will buy it security.

Pakistan’s benefactors would do well for themselves, for the neighbourhood and the world by insisting on a basic minimum of orderliness accompanied by a high threshold of expectations and a low threshold of tolerance of any transgression. Merely continuing to arm Pakistan with sophisticated weaponry meant to be used against India and not for the global war on terror is not the answer. It reflects a sad lack of coherent policy towards a State that seems to be on auto-destruct. Today, the US assumes a stake in Musharraf’s survival in the pursuit of its own strategic interests. India has a stake in Pakistan’s survival. The two need not be congruent interests.

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