By J. Sri Raman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 28 December 2007
Friends and foes had warned Benazir Bhutto before. Both predicted a tragic end for her, if she returned home and tried to proceed as if nothing had happened in Pakistan over the eight years of her self-exile. Many had warned about the equally inevitable fate of the political experiment that Pervez Musharraf claimed to be conducting in Pakistan.
Bhutto, as we all know now, ignored the warnings, whether out of naïveté or her conviction that she was destined to stage a successful comeback. Surviving a first attempt on her life after her return on October 18, she grew more confident, perhaps, that her gamble would pay off. Those who wanted her out of the way succeeded the second time. On December 27, within two months of her triumphant and tearful landing in her beloved Karachi, the hopes she had raised lay as shattered as the nearly 200 bodies blown to bits in the two blasts.
Those who had scripted her return as part of a plan for Pakistan's transition to democracy (on the assumption that an abrupt transformation of the system was out of the question) have also continued to ignore warnings. And none has done so as disdainfully as the world's sole superpower that swears by democracy.
It is an open secret that the George Bush administration had authored the script from the opening line and through changing scenes, with all the subsequent but minor amendments and without unduly worrying about Musharraf's full and final approval. Washington's diplomats, aided by their counterparts in Western Europe, had first brought Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif together as signatories for a Charter for Democracy and then brokered a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf.
Washington, it was widely publicized, had settled on her as the best person to partner Musharraf in what was billed as an "alliance of moderation." She was considered the most acceptable person for the role in Pakistan, perhaps rightly as she was the leader of the country's most popular political party, though none in the Bush establishment was bothered that its support made her distinctly less acceptable. Sharif, it turned out later, also had a place in the scheme of things, though he has successfully kept everyone in suspense over it.
The warnings in this case, have been about the basic fallacy of Washington's prescription. The "democracy" on offer to Pakistan's people was doubly dubious. It was a "democracy" sought to be restored under military rule and with the ordered support of a dictator. It was also a "democracy" sought to be imposed upon the people from abroad.
To large sections of Pakistanis, the truncated and tailored democracy has not appeared a transition towards a democratic transformation, but only a trick. It has appeared only an attempt at an extension of military rule or dominance by other means.
Many theories have been doing the rounds about Bhutto's assassination. Details of the gory crime, wrought by a sniper's gun as well as a suicider's bomb, are still being discussed. Broadly, however, popular suspicion points to Musharraf or the Taliban or both. To millions of Pakistanis, the lacerating tragedy would seem to illustrate military-extremist links more than anything else.
The most immediate and important likely consequences of the tragedy also suggest that an alliance of forces against restoration of real democracy has proved stronger than any Washington-arranged partnership. The general election scheduled for January 8 does not seem likely at all now. Bush, of course, has urged adherence to the election plans and Musharraf has not hastened to scrap it officially. But, only days ago, a luminary of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), Musharraf's own puppet party, forecast no more than a 15 percent turnout in the election. After the assassination and ensuing arson and violence all over the country, that would appear an overoptimistic assessment. The election, in other words, can only be a sham exercise.