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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

Pakistan burns after Bhutto

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features


To blame Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf for the assassination of former prime minister and the PPP leader Benazir Bhutto may be a bit immature but it can hardly be doubted that the policies pursued by the Pakistani president were largely responsible for that great tragedy. Any stock taking of his rule will show that it was his rule that has pushed closer to the edge of disaster than any other previous military or civilian leader in Pakistan.

It is a situation that should require some reassessment of its Pakistan policy by the country’s biggest benefactor, the United States, and should see India increase vigil on the borders, though fears of a massive influx of militants from across the border into India would appear to be misplaced. The US efforts should be to first change the very system in Pakistan that accords an unduly important place to its military. Democracy will come easily to the country after that, though it has to be admitted that ending the military supremacy in Pakistan looks easier said than done.

In the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto any talk of Pakistan taking the path of democracy makes little sense, especially when the general elections due on January 8 will carry little credibility. The Pakistan Muslim League leader, Nawaz Sharif, has already asked his candidates to boycott the polls. Bhutto’s PPP, has decided to remain in the poll, obviously to cash in on the sympathy factor.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the fairness of the polls will remain in doubt. Even before the Dec 27 assassination of Bhutto, Musharraf had made sure that the election commission does not go against his interests and that the opposition is not able to campaign with all the freedom that it needs.

No matter who was responsible for sending the youth who sprayed bullets into Bhutto in the garrison town of Rawalpindi it is certain that he was under the influence of a philosophy that has been almost openly preached in the country by fundamentalist-jihadi elements throughout the last seven or eight years of Musharraf’s rule and he enjoyed support of religious parties.

In her own time and as prime minister on two occasions Benazir Bhutto was not averse to playing deceptive politics. Wearing a ‘liberal’ mask, she was an ardent supporter of the jihadi militant types who had raised visions of a Pakistan grab of Kashmir and were to take over much of Soviet occupied Afghanistan to establish the dark rule of the Taliban. She was widely accused of corrupt practices.

But despite her shortcomings she looked like a determined opponent of military rule in Pakistan. It may have something to do with the fact that her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in 1977 at the behest of a military dictator. And threats from another military ruler of sending her to jail had forced her to live in voluntary exile.

Whatever the reason behind her belief that Pakistan would be better served by democracy, she had a proven charisma and had earned a place in the hearts and minds of Pakistanis, not just in her native Sindh province. It is said that as a political leader she had a wider appeal across the nation than her nearest rival, Nawaz Sharif.

That has been also demonstrated in another tragic manner when mourners in different parts of Pakistan, many shouting anti-Musharraf slogans, took to the streets and even indulged in violence to register their protest against her assassination in a town that is almost an extension of the national capital and, what is more, is the headquarter of Pakistan’s most potent and omnipresent force, the army.

The escalating violence in Pakistan itself is indicative of how the public perceives the Musharraf rule and its inability—unwillingness, some would say—to curb religious fundamentalism that has led to widespread militancy and insurgency. Musharraf had imposed emergency (martial law?) to curb those forces and when he lifted it he claimed that he had succeeded in achieving that. Does anyone believe that?

Swat valley was one of the most favourite tourist destinations in Pakistan. It has been taken over by the Taliban, though Musharraf claims they have been thrown out. The province of NWFP, already known to be sympathetic to the Taliban is becoming increasingly restive. Balochistan has been witnessing a violent nationalist movement and the adjoining tribal areas have become safer havens for the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Sectarian violence keeps hitting Sindh and the biggest city of Pakistan, Karachi. After Bhutto’s assassination, violence has also spread to Punjab. Musharraf with or without the uniform has not been able to give a sense of security to his people.

Musharraf has used much of the incredibly generous American help in cash and military equipment (worth at least two billion dollars a year) not for the purpose for which it was given--the ‘war on terror’—but prepare his military to attack India. The more stunning thing is that despite knowing this the Americans preferred to be quiet about it.

The inference from such an inexplicable American attitude is that it is almost as half-hearted in fighting the so-called war on terror as Musharraf. But it is not clear why should the US be so keen to treat Musharraf as indispensable? Is he the only General in that country who can fight (?) the ‘war on terror’? Or, is he the only Pakistani leader who wants (??) to rid Pakistan of extremism?

The answer has to be ‘no’ on both counts. Clearly, the US under George W. Bush has no carrot and stick policy for Pakistan; it is only ‘carrot and cake’ policy where rogue behaviour is actually rewarded by carrots and a repeat by cake!

If there is any American stick for Musharraf it comes from non-governmental sources such as the media, South Asia experts and an odd politician or two.

- Syndicate Features -

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