Benazir Bhutto's Political Return: A Reality Check
Pakistan's political situation is in the danger of being misread if one goes by the media coverage describing in rapturous terms the reception that was accorded to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on arrival in Karachi on October 18 2007 when she returned from a self-imposed eight year exile to evade serious corruption charges against her.
Pakistan's explosive political dynamics will not come to an end with her arrival with a magical waving of her hands. On the contrary her return is likely to add more fuel to Pakistan's political explosiveness and volatility. A foretaste was provided by those opposed to her when her rapturous victory procession was abruptly aborted by suicide bombings resulting in an unprecedented loss of over 140 lives and nearly 500 wounded.
Benazir Bhutto may be a charismatic figure on the strength of her glamorous personality and her family name but she politically does not have it in her what Pakistan needs most at this juncture. Pakistan today is in a tormented state and the nation needs a visionary political leader who can provide a healing touch and a healing treatment to a politically divisive nation fatigued by eight years of military rule by General Musharraf.
Benazir Bhutto has returned to Pakistan not with an image of a 'Joan of Arc' or as a political martyr coming out after a long political incarceration by the Pakistan Army regime but as an unscrupulous politician who has traded her political integrity for personal gain and absolution from corruption charges, by willingly becoming an accomplice in the perpetuation in power of the much hated General Musharraf as desired by the United States. General Musharraf and the United States are much hated entities in Pakistan today and with Benazir Bhutto joining them she completes the hated trinity.
Pakistan at this critical juncture needed a political leader who could politically embrace the whole of Pakistan and bond it together. Benazir Bhutto soon on arrival in Karachi betrayed her parochial attitudes by stating that if the Supreme Court ruled against the Musharraf Ordinance absolving her from corruption charges it would only be due to the fact that she is a Sindhi. Unlike her last return to Pakistan when she chose to land at Lahore in Punjab she chose this time to land at Karachi in Sindh. It may be her home province but the reasons were different. Karachi is politically dominated by the pro- Musharraf Mohajjir MQM political combine who even though are virulently anti-Bhutto would at the General's command not impede her political return. Lahore on the other hand though ruled by Musharraf's party has the leadership of this party violently opposed to her return despite Musharraf. Under their directions Bhutto's reception at Lahore could have been marred and robbed it of the headlines which she could get at Karachi.
Pakistan stands politically changed greatly in the absence of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif her political opponent. While Bhutto's lieutenants may have kept her political party alive there were many who crossed over to the ruling party. Additionally, Bhutto striking a political deal with General Musharraf has not gone down well with many of her party people who were battling Musharraf politically while she was comfortably living in luxurious exile in Dubai.
Benazir Bhutto's political popularity in the ensuing weeks is likely to be sorely tested on the personal plane and which would have an appreciable impact on her political future. Her political popularity in Sindh is confined only to the rural areas. In Punjab her traditional vote-bank is likely to get fragmented and Punjab is the most populous province. Balochistan's people cannot forget the virtual genocide which her father inflicted during his regimeand which is continuing and not stop if even Bhutto comes to power. The NWFP is dominated by the Islamist parties and the Taliban who would not mind getting her liquidated because of perceived affinity to the United States.
The United States has scripted the political return of Bhutto totally oblivious to the reality that the original sins and the seeds of 9/11 were laid during her earlier regimes, Pakistan's nuclear weapons program started by her father progressed during her regime, clandestine transfer of nuclear technology to Iran took place under her regime and it was she who personally struck a deal with North Korea to provide NODONG long range missiles to Pakistan in return for Pakistani transfer of nuclear weapons technology.
Objective analysis would indicate that the realities obtaining in Pakistan do not portend a comfortable political future for Benazir Bhutto. However the other side of the reality coin is that since the United States and General Musharraf have scripted her political return to Pakistan they would also contrive and ensure that in the ensuing political processes that follow, despite any spanners by Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, they would ensure that Benazir Bhutto emerges as the Prime Minister even if it means that the General has to rig elections in her favor.
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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