We were recently interviewed by Javier Mendez of Chile’s El Mercurio on Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. Here are the answers Alejandro Beutel and I gave to his questions.
1) What are the expectation for the return Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan?
Musharraf and his supporters, who are in an embattled position, politically against popular sentiment and opposition activists, are expecting support from Bhutto with the new power sharing deal. Many ordinary Pakistanis are weary over past allegations of corruption, which were also the pretext used by two different military juntas to force her removal from power. Pakistanis appear to be somewhat skeptical of Bhutto’s rhetoric of restoring civilian rule and promoting the rule of law and democracy while making a power sharing deal with the current authoritarian-leaning government. A recent poll by the International Republican Institute showed only 35% of Pakistanis favored Bhutto’s deal with Musharraf.
The U.S. government would not mind the power sharing deal because it could bring at least greater political stability and shore up support within the country against religious extremists.
2) Which role could she play in the domestic political of Pakistan. Could she be a Prime Minister again?
Bhutto professes an interest restoring democracy and civilian rule and fighting the Taliban and religious extremism. It is unclear how effective she could be on any of these. It is also unclear whether or not she will be Prime Minister again. Maintaining popular support in the wake of the power sharing deal will be an obastcle as will unresolved questions over the legality of her corruption amnesty. Finally, there is the possibility certain elements of the military and intelligence, who she strongly opposes in public, will try to undermine her.
3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of Benazir Bhutto?
Her strength is her opposition to Musharraf and self-portrait as the only person able to rescue Pakistan from another failed military junta. Her promises to restore democracy and civilian rule are welcome by the majority of Pakistanis.
Her weaknesses are a history of alleged corruption as well as strong opposition within certain sectors of the military and intelligence. After all, she was deposed on two different occasions by military juntas under the pretext of corruption. Her power sharing deal with Musharraf has also thrown into question her previously stated commitments to civilian rule of law and democracy.
4) Her governments were hounded by charges of mismanagement and corruption… Was she, in any way, responsible for these acts?
This is unclear. Pakistani courts have not proven any of the charges thrown at Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. The illegal and undemocratic means by which the juntas took power and leveled charges against her and her husband, suggests that the charges are politically motivated. Nonetheless, there is a significant body of evidence, not just from Pakistan, but also from Poland, Switzerland, the Middle East and France tying them to massive corruption. Mr. Zardari has been popularly labeled “Mister 10%” (a reference to his alleged skimming of government contracts). There is a great deal of irony, if not hypocrisy, when Bhutto levels allegations of corruption against Musharraf and claims to fight cultural “feudalism” in the name of socialist principles. In all fairness, corruption is endemic within the entire political system, especially as military continues its influence in public and private institutions. One must also remember that Pakistan ranks 138 out of 179, Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index”.
5) Do you think that Bhutto will continue a position about a modern Muslim nation and a rhetoric on fighting Al Qaeda and The Taliban?
Yes. She will certainly continue that rhetoric because it is in line with party’s ideology. Furthermore, it is in her interests because it appeals both to US and other nations with strong regional interests as well as the majority Pakistanis who are very troubled by growing lawlessness and bloody attacks from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It is uncertain whether or not she is truly willing and able to do so because of the above stated reasons.
6) What are the main platforms of her Liberal Party?
Bhutto’s platform is socialist. However she and her right-leaning counterpart Nawaz Sharif have agreed to a series of principles concerning on Pakistan’s political system within a document called the “Charter of Democracy.” In it, independence of the judiciary, restoration of the 1973 Constitution, and reduced military influence in civilian politics are emphasized. Of particular interest in the Charter, which she has also stated in news interviews, is the extension of political representation to tribal regions, which are currently directly run by the federal government. She views tribal regions’ lack of political representation and economic underdevelopment as the core causes of the Taliban’s popularity in those parts of the country. There are also vague references to women’s and minority rights in the document. Despite her advocacy of these issues when in power, she had great difficulty trying to get support for these issues due to entrenched political and culturally conservative interests. These issues will be of less pressing concern to her due to the current political and security climate within Pakistan and its effect on her political clout.