Whither Pakistan After Bhutto?
With the apparent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani P.M., more, far more, than a talented family of political leaders loses a loved one; Pakistan loses a figure that could've closed the door to military dictatorship; and the U.S. loses perhaps its most favored asset in the region.
Controversy continues to swirl around who actually struck down the photogenic, charismatic political figure, the nation's first female Prime Minister; was it 'militants' (ala al Qaeda-types), or actors from Pakistan's ubiquitous military (or perhaps a mix of both)?
Whatever the source of this attack, the result is chaos, which bodes ill for a nuclear nation still reeling from the near strangulation of the country's constitution by a self appointed president determined to hold on to power, by virtually any means.
Several weeks ago, at the height of the State of Emergency decree, a welder in Rawalpindi told a reporter, "If I stood for election here, I would win more seats than [Pervez] Musharraf" (NY Times, 11/9/07, A12).
An American educated lawyer spoke out against the actions of the regime by posing a question that had become more than rhetorical in the new Pakistan: "How do you function as a lawyer when the rule of law is what the general says it is?" [NYT, 11/7/07, A1]
Musharraf ordered the incarceration of lawyers, judges and journalists -- almost all of whom were critics of his government. And while the government's assaults on these people elicited massive amounts of press, somewhat lesser reporting covered the government's "involuntary retirement" of 37 judges recently, 24 members of the High Court, and 13 Supreme Court justices, including ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudry.
In an Aug. 2007 poll of Pakistanis, the President-General garnered a miserable 38 percent approval rating, a low mark achieved before the State of Emergency was announced. But Musharraf looked like a winner compared to American president, George w. Bush, who received an anemic 9% approval rate.
According to the Washington, D.C. based nonprofit organization, Terror Free Tomorrow, 19% of Pakistanis held a favorable view of the U.S. Oh -- yeah, Osama bin Laden? In the nation claimed by the Bush regime to be a strong ally in the 'global war on terror', Osama gets a 46% approval rating! [Wash. Post/ Nat'l Ed., 11/5-11/07, p.18]
Figures like these send chills down the spines of U.S. policy makers when they consider Pakistan's real prospects for democracy. They were thus hoping for a smooth transition from Musharraf to Bhutto, who, as a Western educated woman with impeccable liberal credentials, would've kept the door open to the U.S., on friendly terms.
That option has now passed away with Bhutto.
Should it be found that the military dictatorship did have a hand in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, it would mean that two Bhuttos, and more to the point, two former prime ministers, were slain by military dictatorships. Bhutto's famous father, former President (and Prime Minister) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was removed by Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, and hanged in 1979!
Pakistan has never taken too kindly to the notion of an elected civilian leadership. The nation, as a republic, was hardly 2 years in existence when Gen. Ayub Khan seized power in a coup, abrogating the constitution in 1958. Ever since, presidents and prime ministers have had a tenuous tenure as heads of state, for they were able to be removed at whim by the generals.
If Pakistan can be called a democracy today, it is quite an odd duck, for it has been led by generals for most of its 51 years. Born in the extremes of war against its cousin (then known as East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) it has had a love - hate relationship with its generals. Musharraf is but the latest.
The forecast for the U.S. seems to be increasing instability (with occasional downpours of dictatorships).