All's fair in politics and war
The promise by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, that a team from Scotland Yard would help investigate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, was the only news in his speech to the nation yesterday. But in Pakistan they know that the administration will have no difficulty concealing what it does not want to reveal, even if an experienced team of British detectives does in fact investigate the affair. There are no illusions that the investigation will end by the date of the elections that have once again been postponed, this time to February 18.
The struggle that is now taking place in Pakistan is not over the "truth," but over victory in the elections and Musharraf's legitimacy. It will be a war of slander versus stories of heroism, memories and commemoration, until the conclusion of the election campaign.
In this war, new life has been given to the story of the birth of Bakhtawar, Benazir Bhutto's daughter. In 1990, during Bhutto's first term as prime minister, the opposition claimed that Bhutto, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was incapable of functioning and that she had to retire at least until the birth. She rushed with some of her followers to the hospital in Karachi, gave birth to her daughter by Caesarian section, and the next day returned to work. Those who are drawing a portrait of Bhutto have adopted this story in order to demonstrate her determination and courage.
They could have told about a more recent event: Last October, when she embarked on a campaign to enlist public opinion against Musharraf, she was almost killed in a terror attack in Karachi. But Bhutto did not stop the campaign. In a newspaper interview she gave after the attack, she was asked whether she didn't fear for her life. "All the guidebooks I've read recommend to their readers to think about the present, and not about the future," replied Bhutto.
Personal guidebooks, explaining how to succeed in relations with people, or in business, how to appear in public and acquire friends, filled her library in Dubai, where she lived in exile in recent years. During that same interview she quoted the words of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, almost word by word. During the year when he was elected prime minister, in 1977, her father was asked how many more terms he anticipated. "The men in the Bhutto family don't live long, so for now I'm not looking beyond the present term," replied her father.
Zulfikar was indicted and executed by General Zia al-Hak, who was the president and military commander of Pakistan after Bhutto (and was himself killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1988). Benazir's two brothers, Shahnawaz and Murtaza, were murdered "under mysterious circumstances" - one in an apartment in Paris and the other near the family home. An accusing finger was pointed at the time at Benazir herself, after it was discovered that there was a conflict between her and her brothers surrounding the distribution of the family property and the control of the Pakistani People's Party, which was established by their father in 1967.
According to some testimony, Murtaza quarreled with Benazir's husband, Asif Zardari, whom on many occasions he had called a corrupt man and a liar, whose only desire was to take control of the money belonging to the family and the country.
Now there are also no active women left in the family. Benazir's mother, Nusrat, who was the head of the People's Party after Benazir's father was executed (and was removed by Benazir after expressing support for her brother Murtaza), is suffering from Alzheimer's and is apparently unaware of the tragedy. Benazir's daughters are too young to be involved in politics. Her niece Fatima, Murtaza's daughter, was Benazir's harshest critic within the family. But she is not involved in politics either. Control of the People's Party will be formally transferred to the son of Bhutto and Zardari, 19-year-old Bilawal, but de facto his father is the one who will "keep an eye on things."
This may be the only good news that President Musharraf can expect after Bhutto's murder. Musharraf is aware of the continuing dive in his popularity, both among the liberals who support secularism and democracy, who consider him a dictator with no conscience, and on the part of the radical religious parties, which whom he clashed this summer in the Red Mosque. During that confrontation over 100 people were killed. Moreover, Bhutto's People's Party had the best chance of winning the elections.
A deal that went wrong
On the other side of the world, in Washington, there has been heavy pressure on Musharraf in recent months to resign as commander of the army and introduce a civilian and democratic government in Pakistan. Also on the agenda is a threat to freeze assistance to Pakistan. Last April, a political deal was put together by the U.S. administration, enabling Bhutto to return from exile, run in the elections and be appointed prime minister instead of Musharraf. Bhutto, who was under heavy suspicion of corruption, was supposed to receive an exemption from indictment. The exemption would have allowed her to finally withdraw the family wealth, which is estimated at $740 million. This money, which is deposited in Swiss banks, was frozen due to suspicion of corruption in her family.
This deal would have guaranteed the continuation of the rule of Musharraf as president, enabled him to command the army through the commander that he recently appointed, who was his deputy until then, and to function as Bhutto's "protector" as well. Washington was also supposed to be pleased with the arrangement. Under Bhutto's leadership, Pakistan would have been considered a democratic country, which is interested in peace with India and which appointed as prime minister a woman who is a symbol of Westernization, who was educated in elite institutions such as Harvard and Oxford (and was raised by a British nanny). At the same time, Musharraf, "the fearless fighter," could have continued to navigate the interests of the United States in its war against the terror organizations.
But the results of the presidential elections, which took place in October and which Musharraf won, as expected, gave rise to a lawsuit submitted by the opposition to the supreme court. The lawsuit claimed that Musharraf should have resigned from the army before the elections, and therefore their results were illegal. Musharraf declared a state of emergency, claiming that this step was necessary to fight terror; he also froze the constitution, dismissed the judges and appointed a new panel of judges, which was forced to swear allegiance anew according to the temporary regulations determined by Musharraf.
The court that convened in the wake of this constitutional revolution decided that Musharraf's election had been legal. Meanwhile Bhutto returned from exile and understood that the Pakistani public, and her supporters in particular, was passionately opposed to the emergency regime and that if she wanted to win the elections, she had to come out against the dictator.
Musharraf assumed that the deal with Bhutto could not remain in place according to the conditions that had been agreed on. Therefore, he prepared to torpedo her election campaign. She was held under house arrest, from which she was released after a few days. Large police forces tried, without much success, to prevent her supporters from demonstrating all over the country. In light of this, it is no surprise that according to the rumors afloat in Pakistan, it was one of the arms of the government that took care of ending Bhutto's life. The murder of a leader like Bhutto is likely to reinforce public support for her party and to pose an even greater threat to Musharraf's party and the continuation of his rule.
Mr. 10 Percent
This chapter of Musharraf's plan includes Asif Zardari, Bhutto's husband. Zardari is a symbol of the profound corruption of the upper class, which was represented by the Bhutto family. As opposed to Bhutto, whose father used to pamper her with clothes from Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Zardari did not receive expensive presents. Nor did he drink gin and tonic, his late wife's favorite drink, or travel to the center of Oxford to enjoy a favorite British ice cream. He was a man of the middle class, the uneducated owner of a shabby movie theater. He married Bhutto in an arranged marriage cooked up by her mother, because of the claims that a single woman would not achieve political success in a religious society like that of Pakistan.
If Bhutto was always accused of being conceited, arrogant and more interested in luxuries than in learning the language of her country, Urdu, after she married Zardari, the family was labeled "corrupt" as well. After her election as prime minister, she appointed her husband minister of environmental development. He was soon known in Pakistan as "Mr. 10 Percent."
In one of the affairs investigated in the 1990s, the minister of environmental development was involved in tailoring a tender for the French airline Dessau, which was interesting in selling Pakistan 32 Mirage 2000 planes. These were supposed to replace the F-16s whose sale the U.S. had frozen after the development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Zardari was suspected of receiving about $200 million at the time for an overall deal that was worth about $4 billion. The deal fell through in the end, because of the change in government.
In another instance he received about $10 million in exchange for granting exclusive rights to import gold to Pakistan to Abdul Razzak Yakub, a gold trader from Dubai. Nor did he spare several hundred dunams of a protected forest, which he ordered to have uprooted and in its place to build a polo field and stables for the players' horses. Zardari spent seven years in jail for his "business activity," but there are still incidents that are under investigation or have not yet been revealed, including suspicions of drug dealing.
The bitter opponent of the late Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, who is now running in the elections and who was the prime minister who replaced her, is suspected of extensive corruption. The army leadership, including Musharraf, were known for corrupt deals that include taking over businesses or establishing businesses that belong to army officers, who benefited from products supplied by the government.
Now Zardari will run against Sharif in the parliamentary elections. Apparently Musharraf's agreement with Bhutto, which included a pardon for her acts of corruption or those of her family, will no longer be valid. Musharraf's people will not spare any details in explaining to the citizens of Pakistan who is really heading the People's Party.
It could have been one of the most fascinating, not to say entertaining, elections campaigns, were it not for the fact that Pakistan is a very poor country, that it has nuclear weapons, that Taliban supporters of the and radical activists of extremist religious streams are active in its territory, that religious parties have great political power and that Islamic law is the main source of legislation. This is a country in which some areas are not ruled by the central government at all, and in which the murder of a prime minister is seen only as a technical matter.