Pakistan after Benazir

ap_pakistan_elections_071005_ms1.jpgThousands of emotional mourners joined a chaotic funeral procession in Garhi Khuda Baksh, Benazir Bhutto’s ancestral village in southern Sindh province on Friday afternoon. Her body, which was accompanied to the village by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and her three children, was buried alongside her father’s in the family mausoleum.

Bhutto’s assassination on Thursday in a combined shooting and suicide bomb attack plunged Pakistan into internal strife, as riots broke out all over Sindh and the

Punjab. The general elections in Pakistan were scheduled for 8th January, but with a prominent Prime Ministerial candidate now out of the picture, the political analysis of

Pakistan needs a change in perspective.

Bhutto was a charismatic leader, and like her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had been the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party throughout her political career. The dynastic PPP is now left headless, looking for an alternative representation at its top, days before the elections. Benazir’s niece, Fatima Bhutto, who is a young writer, is being suggested as a possible successor, one who will be accepted by all parties.

Fatima is the daughter of Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir’s brother, who was killed during her second stint as Prime Minister in 1996, in a police encounter.

The non-Bhutto name that is doing the rounds is that of PPP Vice-President Makhdoom Amin Fahim. Fahim, who has served as Federal Minister during Benazir Bhutto’s tenure, is considered a family loyalist. From a powerful feudal family in the Sindh province, Fahim is thought to have the political reach to pull together the party’s factions and guide it towards victory.

Either way, the PPP’s new leadership will hardly have any time to prepare for the elections, if the party does decide to contest.

The instinct of President Pervez Musharraf may well be to postpone the vote due on January 8, and to reimpose the state of emergency that he has only just lifted, his argument being lest violence sweep through Pakistan. The immediate condemnation from

Moscow, expressing fears that Ms Bhutto’s death would trigger a wave of terrorism, has given the President implicit support for any crackdown. Such an act would almost certainly further

Pakistan from democratic rule.

The threat of violent protest across the country, but particularly in Bhutto’s home

province of

Sindh, is no exaggeration by the Musharraf camp. Judging by his recent reflexes, Musharraf may well invoke that threat of violence as justification for a new security crackdown. In that event, he is likely to be backed by General Ashfaq Kiyani, a loyalist whom he recently inserted as his replacement as the Army chief. However, this will be the first test of whether Kiyani’s loyalty holds and of whether he shares Musharraf’s tactics of confronting the terrorist threat.

The other Prime Ministerial hopeful, Nawaz Sharif, is now the sole focal point of the entire opposition to Musharraf’s rule. Sharif announced that his Pakistan Muslim League’s (PML-N) manifesto is a single demand for the restoration of the judges sacked in November by President Musharraf. However, with the Pakistani Election Commission banning Sharif on the basis of past crimes, he cannot directly contest the 2008 General Elections. With the PML-N’s appeal meeting with rejection, in what is suspected to be a politically motivated decision, the party can be expected to boycott the elections.

While addressing thousands of supporters during an election campaign stop in

Hyderabad on Monday, Benazir Bhutto had sharply criticized Musharraf’s rule as a “dark era of dictatorship.” With her death, that era, might just be prolonged. These are crossroads in the lives of societies. Whatever the talents, visions and ambitions of individual leaders, they have a broader obligation to all those whom they might govern. Vineet Kanabar