All Eyes On Pakistan


Following the assassination of the leader of Pakistan People’s Party and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, the entire country was thrown into a state of chaos with riots and burnings occurring over a span of 24 hours and continuing well beyond. Serious doubts were also raised regarding the impending elections scheduled on January 8th, 2008. With a major Prime Ministerial candidate out of the race, Nawaz Sharif, head of PML-N, decided to ‘boycott’ the elections as well, declaring them ‘meaningless’. However, in a landmark turn of events, Bilawal (who will be henceforth known as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari), the eldest son of the assassinated Bhutto has been nominated as the chairman of the PPP.This decision was arrived at after a high-level meeting of PPP in Larkana. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, said that although Bhutto had named him to be his political successor, he wanted their son to take charge of the party. Zardari remains the co-chairman of the party with Abdul Makhdoom Fahim being touted as the Prime Ministerial candidate.However, hours after the press conference where Bilawal was named the leader of the PPP, Zardari made an announcement declaring that Bilawal would continue with his studies and it would be Zardari who would look into the affairs of the PPP until Bilawal ‘grows up’. Zardari also went onto explain how there once existed a concept that claimed that Pakistan would disintegrate when Benazir Bhutto died. He claimed that we can see the statement being enacted right before our eyes. Zardari emphatically appealed for a free and fair poll in Pakistan and stated that his party stood for a democratic Pakistan and would do all they could to end dictatorship. Ironically, Zardari was known as ‘Mr. 10 Percent’ during Bhutto’s tenure as prime Minister, due to alleged stories of his taking commissions, a rumour Bhutto vehemently denied all her life.With the PPP confirming their presence in the polls, the other contesting party, former Prime Mister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, has reconfirmed their running in the polls, following a decision to ‘boycott’ the elections earlier after Bhutto’s assassination. PML-N leader Siddique-ul-Farooq said that since the PPP has decided to contest the polls and since they had appealed to the PML-N to do the same, the party had decided to reverse their decision and would now contest the January 8th elections. The formal decision to contest the polls will be announced on January 1st. Farooq said that the PML-N would work jointly with the PPP in efforts to achieve democracy for the state of Pakistan. The association, it is hoped, will continue even after the polls.This raises a very crucial question that demands an answer that could decide the fate of future Pakistan. Would the two parties join hands to form the next government? The answer to this would be visible post the declaration of the poll results. The turn of events today has left many questions like this unanswered. With Bilawal being declared the chairman of the PPP, and then deciding to continue with his studies at Oxford University, would the Bhutto legacy hold tight in a time when Zardari would be practically maneuvering the party? What would be the impact of a political alliance between the PPP and the PML-N? With the assassination of Bhutto, would Fahim be able to gain as much popularity as she did, in order to win the polls? Or would a sympathy tide be the trump card of the PPP? What would be the fate of President Pervez Musharraf in the polls, now with the entire country mourning the loss of the charismatic and suave Bhutto?With reports claiming that the Al-Qaeda, as previously alleged, was not the source behind the assassination, and the PPP vehemently stating that the Al-Qaeda link was a ‘planted story’, President Musharraf and his government have come under a lot of international scrutiny. With militant Baitullah Mehsud, allegedly the Al-Qaeda member responsible for the assassination, rebuffing the claim with a spokesperson stating that the organization ‘does not strike at women’ and that ‘this was a well-planned conspiracy carried out by the intelligence agencies, army and government’, conspiracy theories have intensified in number. PPP sources claim that Mehsud had earlier informed Bhutto through emissaries about his non-involvement in the October bombing of her convoy, for which too he had been blamed by the government.The United States has been deeply affected by Bhutto. Hillary Clinton, ahead of the first US Presidential primary to be held in Iowa on January 3rd to chose the Democratic candidate, has been the first to call for an independent and impartial international poll investigation into Bhutto’s death.In another turn of events, it has been revealed that weeks before the assassination, the Bush administration had provided both Bhutto and the Pakistani government with intelligence of possible threats to Bhutto’s life from extremists. They had also provided methods on how to reduce the risk to her life and had appealed to the Pakistani authorities to provide her with adequate protection. However, it has been alleged, that the Musharraf government had rebuffed these pleas of increased securities and neither had the Americans pressed too hard. It is interesting to note that although the US officials had acknowledged such an imminent threat to Bhutto’s life, they had failed to provide her with direct security service, a privilege that has been arranged for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other leaders of the middle-east. This recent report reaffirms the fact that Benazir herself was aware of the potential threat to her life while making the choice to return to Pakistan, as was manifested by her letter to the Pakistani authorities listing the names of people she felt could be a threat to her life. At such a juncture, when it is quite clear that both Bhutto and the Pakistani government was aware of the threat that existed to the former prime Minister’s life, it remains a bafflement as to why security was not beefed up with the government being so extremely negligent about her presence in the country. With impending elections and a growth in religious fundamentalists in the country, shouldn’t the Government have atleast ensured Bhutto’s security as the least that it could do, while claiming to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections?With the validity of Bhutto’s death being questioned strongly, President Musharraf has a lot to answer for. With a fresh and young Bilawal as the face of the PPP, would his dynastic legacy cash in the popularity and soar through the elections? One also wonders whether the undertaking of his mother’s name, ‘Bhutto’, formally, was not a publicity gimmick. However, under the circumstances, it is hoped that that was not the true intention behind Bilawal adopting the Bhutto name. With the PPP and the PML-N in the running again, the January 8th polls are possibly the most awaited polls barring the January 3rd US Presidential nomination of the final Democratic candidate. January remains a tense month, which would decide the future of Pakistan, and whether democracy is indeed a plausible reality for the country. Even in death, Benazir Bhutto shines on, continuing to be the beacon that she was in her lifetime, uniting Pakistan in her mourning and guiding them in a direction to rightfully demand their democracy as a nation.Shayoni Sarkar