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Can We Trust Benazir Bhutto?

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has returned home to throngs of cheering supporters after eight years of self-imposed exile. She has an editorial in the Boston Globe on her intention of creating a new and democratic Pakistan, and she may just have the political power to do that. She writes:

As I board the plane that takes me home to Pakistan today, I carry with me a manuscript of a book I am writing that will be published shortly. It is a treatise on the reconciliation of the values of Islam and the West, and a prescription for a moderate and modern Islam that marginalizes religious extremists, returns the military from politics to their barracks, treats all citizens and especially women with full and equal rights, selects its leaders by free and fair elections, and provides for transparent, democratic governance that addresses the social and economic needs of the people as its highest priority.

To me this is not just a book but a campaign manifesto, a guide to governing. If the people of Pakistan honor me again with an opportunity to lead, I intend to practice what I preach, to have my actions match my rhetoric and to make Pakistan a positive model to 1 billion Muslims around the world.

It’s certainly a noble goal. The question is whether Bhutto can pull it off, and whether her return presages a brighter future for Pakistan or whether it will simply return that country to the pre-Musharraf status quo.

Ralph Peters makes a pointed argument that Bhutto will only take Pakistan backwards:

Nonetheless, we blind ourselves to the forces in play when we caricature all coup-makers. For all his faults, Musharraf views himself as a Pakistani patriot – not as a political party boss in the fashion of Bhutto, nor as a Punjabi or Pashtun, Baluch or Sindhi first. Indeed, only the military holds the fractured state of Pakistan together.

Now Benazir Bhutto – one of the figures who did so much to destroy the fabric of society and the economy – is back in Pakistan. It appears that she and Musharraf have worked out a power-sharing arrangement. We may hope for the best, but we also need to be prepared for the worst: a new era of hyper-corruption, as Bhutto’s grab-all gang replaces the relative moral rigor of the military in the public sphere.

And let’s not forget those nukes.

While Bhutto is saying all the right things, her record in Pakistan is hardly stellar. During her tenure as the country’s leader, the Pakistani government openly helped the Taliban gain power in Afghanistan. She was kicked out of office twice for massive corruption. She has nearly $1.5 billion that had previously been locked away in a Swiss bank account and is now accessible due to the deal with the Musharraf regime.

Peters is quite correct to point out that behind all the flowery rhetoric about peace and democracy is a politician who has repeatedly let her people down. One of the most corrosive problems faced by developing nations is corruption, which eats away at the foundations of good government. The last thing Pakistan needs to replace a flawed by honest patriot with a corrupt sectarian who will continue her policy of getting rich off lucrative foreign contracts while Pakistan crumbles around her and falls into extremism.

Perhaps Benazir Bhutto has changed her spots. Perhaps she really believes in democracy and establishing a democratic future for Pakistan. Yet the West should not blindly trust her to do so. The worst thing that could happen in the region is a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the hands of those who would use those weapons for either religious terrorism or national conflict. A nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India would devastate the entire region and throw the world economy into panic.

The stakes are too high in this matter to trust blindly. Bhutto must be held to her word, and that means that should she return to her own ways the West must be willing to look past Musharraf’s military background and work with him on ensuring that Pakistan does not fall into anarchy or worse.

2 responses to “Can We Trust Benazir Bhutto?”

  1. Dave says:

    One minor correction to your post “Peters is quite corrupt to point out” I think you may want to correct that line.

    Also I believe her exile was forced not self-imposed as you state, I cannot find a source citing either way.

    Dave

  2. Jay Reding says:

    One minor correction to your post “Peters is quite corrupt to point out” I think you may want to correct that line.

    Yes I would. :)

    Also I believe her exile was forced not self-imposed as you state, I cannot find a source citing either way.

    It probably depends on who you ask. She was wanted on corruption charges, so had she stayed she would have been arrested…