When former Pakistani Prime Minister and popular opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, was recently assassinated while campaigning for the now-in-doubt January 8, 2008 elections the United States mainstream media quickly, without and factual evidence, flung out to the world the line that terror organization Al-Qaeda had struck again this time in attempts to undermine Pakistan’s democracy.
But as no evidence of Al-Qaeda’s complicity emerged CNN et al had to backtrack and fall back on the tried and tested technique of blaming Bhutto’s assassination on still unproven “security lapses” and other vague and uninformed analyses by a conveyor line of experts all distinguishable by their abysmal lack of understanding of the realities on the ground within Pakistan.
First and foremost let us place Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the context of Pakistan’s political establishment. Ms. Bhutto, “President for Life of the PPP,” was a member of Pakistan’s ruling elite and differed little ideologically from military strongman and now president Pavez Musharraf. While the former general’s political techniques are crude, arrogant, imperial and blunt, Ms. Bhutto, a charismatic woman, utilized more subtle populist methods to score political points and to gain popularity with the masses. By contrast, Musharraf, who has the Pakistani army’s backing, feels that he does not need popular support or vote – he can always put guns and boots on the street to get his way.
Both Bhutto and Musharraf are leaders who continued Pakistan’s long utilized political tool and tradition of the “cult of the personality.” That is why her untimely demise has now thrust the Bush Administration into a state of near anxiety over what will happen to the PPP now that its paramount leader is dead. Indeed, without Ms. Bhutto the party is already starting to flounder and vacillate and without a groomed successor may just disintegrate altogether or split into other factions.
Ms. Bhutto was no squeaky clean politician either and while one does not want to speak ill of the dead her rise to political power was not exactly by playing fair. She is reported to have orchestrated the jettisoning of her mother from the top leadership of the PPP after her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in 1979 by another Pakistani military strongman General Zia ul-Haq who came to power in a military coup. General ul-Haq met his end in 1988 when his aircraft blew up in midair ironically paving the way for Ms. Bhutto to become the first woman and freely elected prime minister of Pakistan since the country’s independence.
Her two stints as prime minister from 1988 to 1990, and from 1993 to 1996 and her self-imposed exile, her striking beauty and political astuteness allowed Ms. Bhutto to develop a kind of political divinity that helped to make her supporters and followers fanatical devotees and her enemies just as determined to see her dead. The “cult of the personality” by its very nature provokes such powerful emotional and political intensity that tragic circumstances are often the end result. Pakistan’s long and sordid political history is not one of democratic reforms or democratic institution-building but one of the total failure of the “cult of the personality.”
Indeed, it has become very galling to hear western political leaders touting the virtues of Musharraf by equating his despotic rule and endemic state corruption with democracy. There is no democracy or democratic rule in Pakistan and this has been so for all of 30 years. Sporadic, limited domestic reforms and granting of a few more individual rights and freedoms when a military of civilian dictator decides to do so is not evidence of democracy at work or in progress.
Therefore, to characterize Pakistan as a democracy there must be a sustained, continual record of the rule and respect for people’s freedoms and for the law. There must be a demonstrated history of the strengthening and independence of institutions that guarantee and protect democratic institutions, rights and individual liberties in Pakistan – Things that are missing today.