Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benazir Bhutto: Before her death - 14

Veteran journalist, Kuldip Nayar [The writer is a leading columnist based in New Delhi - India]

Dilemma facing Benazir By Kuldip Nayar

I AM not surprised at Benazir Bhutto’s inclination for an understanding with President Musharraf. She has never rejected a working arrangement with him or, for that matter, with the military unequivocally. Even when she told me in London some months ago that she would have no truck with the military, she was not as emphatic as I found Nawaz Sharif to be when I met him later.

Still, the Charter of Democracy the two have signed leaves no room for doing business with Musharraf. The charter says: “Drawing history’s lesson that the military dictatorship and the nation cannot coexist,” the country requires “a new direction different from the militaristic and regimental approach of the Bonapartist regimes, as the current one.”

To argue that her main concern is to have cases of corruption against her and her husband dropped is not fair. This may be one of her considerations and it is yet to be decided whether she can retain all the mansions and villas she has acquired if the cases are withdrawn in Pakistan or compounded in Switzerland and Spain.

What is probably nearer the truth is the observation she made in one of her interviews: if democracy does not return to Pakistan, the Taliban would take over the country. Her inference may be correct but not her reasoning.

Since the days of General Ziaul Haq, fundamentalism has been encouraged by the government. The mullah has been injected into the military discipline to counter national awakening. Musharraf, until the other day, was plugging the same line. He changed — I do not know how far — when the Frankenstein of terrorism tried to eliminate him. The jihadis are indeed a real danger in Pakistan.

Assuming that Musharraf promises to have a joint front with Benazir Bhutto against the Taliban, will he (by then the re-elected president following the understanding) allow her (by then the prime minister) to eliminate a large number of military personnel having a jihadi outlook? The situation may demand action against religious elements throughout the country. Will she take action when the military appears partly contaminated and when Musharraf feels that it is time for him to sit back and get the support of religious elements on the rebound?

Politically, she will have the MMA against her, apart from Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League and her own party dissidents who would be unhappy over the prospect of working with Musharraf, even if he is no longer in uniform. True, Benazir Bhutto will have America on her side and, maybe, the State Department is burning the midnight oil to make the understanding possible. But this is precisely the reason why she will be all the more suspect. A touch of America, however remote, can spoil things in Pakistan.I do not doubt her sincerity to serve Pakistan at a time when the country is besieged with all types of problems. But the way she is seeking to solve them may not be the correct one. The military in Pakistan is unpopular and any tie-up or an equation with it will be a great liability for her. At times it looks as if she does not realise that Pakistan has changed after the lawyers’ agitation over the “separation” of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the Supreme Court. The protest has ignited the spark that can set fire to a haystack of grievances.

Civil society, that had always kept itself distant from political or other movements, is so worked up and determined to face the police or any other force that it is determined to have the dignity of the Supreme Court or, for that matter, the country, restored.

But Benazir does not seem to learn from the past. She had an agreement with the military in 1988. True, President Farooq Leghari, a civilian head, dismissed her. But behind the dismissal was the army chief. What is the guarantee that the military will not dislodge her again once there are better conditions?

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was at the helm after the only free and fair election in 1971, I asked him how he would ensure that the military did not return. He dismissed the question lightly with the observation that ‘my men will confront the tanks on the streets.’ This did not happen when Zia ousted and even hanged him. Fear stalked the land.

The military has come to be an integral part of Pakistan’s matrix. Maybe, Benazir Bhutto has realised this. After all, Turkey, the most liberal Muslim nation, has an arrangement whereby a Supreme Council, with the three military chiefs as members, supervises the country. The military takes over when it feels that the nation has gone off the constitutional track.

Yet, this is not that democracy which means rule by the people. Nawaz Sharif is correct in saying that the military has to be apolitical and stay in the barracks as is the case in India. But this requires strong institutions and long traditions which Pakistan does not have. When political rulers have had one foot in the military boat and the other in the civil apparatus, no institution can be consecrated, not even the Constitution.

Pakistan’s former foreign minister Assef Ali and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan were in Delhi a few days ago. One question posed to them was why, even after the restoration of democracy, the military took over when it wanted to do so. Both blamed India, arguing that its hostility towards Pakistan made the country dependent on the armed forces for their safety and identity.

Probably, there is something in what they said. After all, Mahatma Gandhi had to fast unto death to make Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, the top leaders of the then central government, release Rs64 crore. This was Pakistan’s due from the division of assets at the time of partition. New Delhi was determined not to return it because the two countries were fighting over Kashmir at that time.

Still, the main reason for Pakistani society caving in is that the country has not gone through the movement which India has during the freedom struggle. The NWFP and to some extent Sindh and Balochistan suffered the atrocities London committed. I do not have to emphasise that they are the ones which have borne the burnt of excesses in Pakistan. Punjab’s participation in the movement is a recent phenomenon.

People’s assertion to rule themselves is an integral part of democracy for its health. This is happening in Pakistan, even though belatedly. At this time any short cut or attempt to collect whatever benefits are available will snuff out that effort. What looks like the beginning of the end may turn out to be the end of the beginning.

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