October 22, 2007

Musharraf and Bhutto: US Pipedream or Reality?

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (seen left), ready to come out of self imposed exile, returned to her homeland on Thursday the 19th. She was welcomed by thousands of members of the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP), and the throngs of supporters was so dense that the motorcade was forced to a crawl. A jubilant Bhutto sat on the top of a two-story bus and greeted her countrymen. The scene soon erupted into utter chaos as two bombs were detonated killing over one hundred people. The night of celebration had turned into a nightmare that will undoubtedly become forever ingrained in the memory of Karachi’s citizens. The loss of any human life to conflict is a tragedy; especially when the victims are innocent bystanders. Understanding these horrific acts of terror has become an obsession; to understand seems paramount for closure. However, an examination of any act of terrorism always involves the question “why?” In order to answer the why, it is necessary to examine the political atmosphere and how this attack is so significant. A combination of civil unrest, political instability and the reluctance of a military leader to share power with an adversary could be a very fair explanation for these recent outbreaks of violence in the region.

Bhutto comes from one of the world’s most famous political dynasties, comparable to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in India. She was educated at Harvard and Oxford, and has overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to become the political powerhouse she is today. She was twice elected to the prime ministership, 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, however on both instances she was dismissed by the President on charges of corruption, of which she has never been convicted and claims the charges were politically motivated. In 1999, Bhutto fled to Dubai amid serious allegations of corruption in order to escape an almost assured prison sentence. She has become increasingly unpopular among Islamic extremists for her liberal democratic position and her advocacy for women’s rights; in addition her strengthened alliance with the United States government has incensed her conservative rivals. While her ideological base has stirred the political pot, her new amnesty deal with President Musharraf has also caused some political backlash. The deal was brokered as part of a package of requests that Bhutto was negotiating pending her power sharing deal with Musharraf. Along with the amnesty agreement for her alleged corruption charges, Bhutto has requested that Musharraf amend the Pakistani constitution to allow her to serve a third term as prime minister and that Musharraf surrender his political ability to dissolve parliament. While Musharraf has not agreed to the last item, his approval of her amnesty is partly responsible for his recent decline in popularity.

The United States has decided to support this unlikely union in order to promote political stability in Pakistan, since the US needs a strong Pakistan and a pro-United States leadership to help them in the war on terror. Given their troubled past as political opponents I am very skeptical about the success of this arrangement. Helene Cooper from the New York Times states: “The administration concluded over the summer that a power sharing deal with Bhutto might be the only way the General Musharraf could keep from being toppled”. In addition, if parliament would no longer be subject to dissolution that would be a positive step towards democracy. However, as this is a political issue, it has equal potential to becoming a catalyst for civil war in Pakistan. The bombing of Bhutto’s procession on Thursday, is a very good indication of not only the lack of control of these terrorist groups in Pakistan, but the ferocity of extremist dissent on the matter. Baitullah Mehsud, a member of a terrorist cell based in Pakistan commented: “We don’t accept President General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto because they only protect the US interest and see things through it’s glasses”. This of course further emphasizes how shortsighted and politically backward this deal is.

If Musharraf and Bhutto succeed in creating a power sharing government, there is a potential that terrorist attacks would be revitalized. New York Times reports: “State Department bureaucrats also fret that her turbulent past will further inflame an already volatile country”. However, there is also serious doubt that this power-sharing government will even be successful on the most basic level. Bruce Reidel: “The backroom deal I think is going to explode in our face….Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf detest each other and the concept that they can somehow work collaboratively is a real stretch”. If there is a constant power struggle in this co-operative government, the war on terror could be forestalled, which of course is counterintuitive for the United States, since their reason for supporting Bhutto was to strengthen the Pakistani government (as seen with President Bush at right).

This new government backed by Bhutto has the potential of bringing democratic principles: “The Pakistan People’s Party and I represent everything they (terrorists) fear the most- modernization, democracy, equality for women, information and technology. We represent the future of a modern Pakistan, a future that has no place in it for ignorance and terrorism”. However, the potential for destabilizing the region is a viable threat, this civil war has a very high contagion effect and could very well spread to other vulnerable regions such as Kashnmir, threatening their fragile relations with Inda. This transition of power should be monitored, Western powers can only hope that Musharraf’s government will be able to handle a civil uprising without resorting to Martial Law. If Musharraf declares a state of emergency which would also mean canceling upcoming elections, the United States would be politically and normatively obligated to withdraw aid. This power sharing deal seems more like an accelerant towards conflict, my only hope is that whatever damage comes of this, be curtailed quickly.

1 comment:

AAD said...

You topic is of great importance and I am thrilled to read your post! Your introduction was very well written, and as such very compelling. You set up the event very well and add an element of suspense which works very effectively here. One thing to note is that your sentence: "As human beings, understanding these horrific acts of terror has become an obsession; to understand seems paramount for closure." is somewhat awkward. I would maybe try to re-work it. I was very glad that you included the background information about the political history as well as the history of Bhutto as I am sure it could prove confusing for some readers unfamiliar with these topics. I am surprised that a leader who claims to be in support of democratic ideals, would ask Musharraf to change the constitution to let her serve a third term. Perhaps, sometimes desperate times do in fact call for desperate measures. Lets just hope this does not prove to be another case of political stratagem. I would have to agree with the source you included in your essay in doubting the ability for these two leaders who so publicly "detest" one another to be able to work functionally in a coalition government. I wonder, with such a high population of Muslim fundamentalists, how Bhutto was elected in the first place? Getting back to your post, your use of quotation is very effective- it allows the reader to get a more first-hand perspective while bolstering your credibility. One of the few criticisms I have is that I think you could beef up your post a bit more- for lack of a better phrase. I found the topic so compelling, and was disappointed when it came to a close.I think this topic warrants just a bit more information regarding how, exactly would the power be shared, how willing Musharraf will be to do this, etc.Also, not to pick some more, but I think you could use a few more links. Overall, I would have to say that it absolutely fulfilled the three requirements.

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