Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
“Whatever the result, this meeting will be a turning point in Pakistan’s history,” Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto told his daughter Benazir as he prepared for a summit meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1972 in the Indian hill resort of Simla after his country’s defeat by India in the 1971 war. “I want you to witness it first hand.”
If there is a slightly surreal quality to President Asif Ali Zardari’s controversial state visit to Britain - where he is expected to launch the political career of Oxford graduate Bilawal Bhutto at a rally for British Pakistanis in Birmingham on Saturday - it is perhaps no more surreal than taking your daughter, herself then a student at Harvard, to witness negotiations with India after a crushing military defeat.
Family dynasties are a tradition in South Asia. Indira Gandhi, the victor of the 1971 war which led to the creation of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, had learned about international relations from her father, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Now her grandson, Rahul Gandhi, is being groomed as a future prime minister while his mother Sonia Gandhi keeps a tight grip from behind-the-scenes on the Congress Party government led by her appointed prime minister Manmohan Singh.
In both countries, the argument has been that the family name is strong enough to win votes, particularly among the millions of rural poor, strong enough to offer a promise of stability, and strong enough to be worth fighting to preserve across generations even in the face of domestic criticism.
The anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has reminded everyone just how much we still don’t know about her killing in a suicide gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
The same questions that transfixed the shocked country in the days after her death, such as why was the crime scene hosed down so quickly, was she killed when the blast smashed her head into the lever on her vehicle’s escape hatch or by a bullet, why was no autopsy performed, are again being raised.
Investigations by the previous government and the U.S. CIA accused an al Qaeda-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud, of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
That would seem logical enough but, as we’ve seen with the Mumbai attacks, any militant attack on or linked to Pakistan seems to raise questions about possible links to old allies in the powerful intelligence services.
One of the more recurrent themes in U.S. political punditry these days is the need to nudge India and Pakistan towards peace. The theory is that this would bolster the new civilian government in Islamabad by encouraging trade and economic development, reduce a rivalry that threatens regional stability, including in Afghanistan, and limit the role of the Pakistan Army, whose traditional dominance has been fuelled by a perceived threat from India.
So what are the chances of progress? (assuming the latest bombings just being reported in Delhi do not trigger a new downwards spiral)
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London and a former advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
This is definitely a case of “the more you know, the less you understand”.
There has been much talk in the media about whether PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari is heading for a showdown with President Pervez Musharraf to force him out of office.
The split in Pakistan’s ruling coalition could provide a lifeline for President Pervez Musharraf that the Pakistani people believed they’d yanked away in an election three months ago.
After the Feb.18 poll demolished Musharraf’s parliamentary support, predictions abounded that the politically isolated U.S. ally would be forced from power within weeks or months. Politicians had even talked about impeaching him.
When former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, agreed in March to form a coalition government in Pakistan, the words of the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli seemed apt:
“Coalitions, though successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief,” I quoted him as saying, in a posting which asked whether the coalition between Sharif’s PML (N) and Zardari’s PPP would survive.
U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson, in a speech reported by the Pakistan press, said last week that the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially among the middle-class, had surprised her. Pakistan’s long-term interests were aligned with those of the United States, and those opposing U.S. engagement in the country had a limited understanding of how the partnership based on economic assistance had changed the lives of Pakistanis, she told a meeting in Karachi. For added measure, she said that the “ïncreasingly prosperous middle class” would be the first to suffer if hardliners gained ground.
She needn’t have looked further than to events last week to see why America sits rather uneasily on the Pakistani mind, a heavy hand of friendship that Pakistanis are increasingly chafing against.
Students from 24 religious schools in Islamabad, including the hardline Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), have been taking part in the past week in a cricket tournament organised by the city authorities as part of measures to regulate and revamp the schools. The students swapped their shalwar kameez for track pants and T-shirts, and sticks for cricket bats.
An economy growing at an average of 7 percent for six years now with a construction and consumer boom, a rising middle-class that has just voted out a government, a free press, a thriving fashion scene. Another emerging market star?
Yes, but this is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, better known these days for its suicide bombings, a nuclear arsenal and labelled as the epicentre of Islamist extremism including perhaps the last redoubt of Osama bin Laden in the lands straddling the Afghan border. “Jihadistan” as one reader wrote on this blog.