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What next for Pakistan?

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Robin Lustig | 11:40 UK time, Friday, 28 December 2007

The sad truth about politics on the Indian sub-continent is that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was so utterly predictable. The list of slain leaders is as long as it is depressing – from Benazir’s own father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, executed in 1979; the first two leaders of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, killed in 1975, and General Zia Rahman, killed in 1981; and the Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, assassinated in 1984, and her son Rajiv, blown up by a suicide bomber in 1991.

The list teaches us two important lessons: one, that dynasties count for a great deal more than democracy in the region; and two, that jihadists are not the only people who murder national leaders. (Mrs Gandhi was shot by her Sikh bodyguards, Rajiv was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber.)

And on the subject of dynasties, by the way, the two most powerful leaders in Bangladesh today are Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Mujibur Rahman, and Khaleda Zia, widow of Zia Rahman. Both are currently in detention.

Pakistan now becomes the most dangerous of all current global flash-points. It is a nuclear power; and it harbours jihadists who in the past have played a major role in the disintegration of neighbouring Afghanistan and have offered finance, training and organisational infrastructure to bombers in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

That’s why Western diplomats will be working round the clock over the coming days to come up with a post-Benazir strategy. The plan was to finesse a Musharraf-Bhutto partnership that would keep Pakistan from spiralling into anarchy. That plan is now dead and will be buried with Benazir.

So what next? Well, Nawaz Sharif will now inevitably take centre stage as the most influential political leader not in uniform. Don’t be surprised to see former cricketer Imran Khan raising his profile, either – although there is little sign that he has any significant following in Pakistan.

Sharif, however, is not much trusted in Western capitals: he is facing serious corruption allegations (as was Benazir Bhutto) and is regarded as too close to the Islamists for the taste of Washington or London. In any case, as things currently stand, he is disbarred from being a candidate in the parliamentary elections, although as we saw with Bhutto, these things can be sorted out quite quickly if regarded as politically expedient.

The immediate priority, surely, will be to reassure the people of Pakistan that their country is not about to disintegrate. The responsibility for offering that reassurance is largely President Musharraf’s, but it won’t be easy, given that so many Pakistanis now want to see the back of him. Western governments can offer support in the short-term, but need to do so as discreetly as they can. And the army needs to keep in the background too.

In India, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, there were real fears that the country would be unable to survive the trauma following her death. Thousands of Sikhs were massacred in revenge attacks in the days after her killing. Yet look at India now, one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Pakistan is not India. It is difficult, I admit, to see anything other than trouble ahead following Bhutto’s death – yet assassinations need not always tip a nation over the edge. Over the coming weeks and months, it won’t be only the people of Pakistan who will be holding their breath and hoping.


Comments

  1. At 03:57 AM on 29 Dec 2007, Mark wrote:

    Should Pakistan fall into the hands of a government sympathetic to Islamic extremists, it will set off alarm bells in lots of places, India, Israel, and America among them. Will Europe be frightened? Al Qaeda has found Europe an easier target than the US since 9-11. We know al Qaeda would like to nuke New York City and Washington DC but they might settle for London, Paris or Berlin, at least for the time being. This would be a case of instantly confronting what we are most fearful about Iran years from now. How would those feel most threatened react? Would anyone launch a pre-emptive strike? It would have to be a massive nuclear one to assure destruction of all of Pakistan's own nuclear weapons, a case of wipe them out now before it is too late. It really is a grim possibility. No way to predict what will likely happen right now.

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  2. At 12:02 PM on 31 Dec 2007, cash advance loan wrote:

    Yeah you are right Dear, Life never stops with one person and your example of India is true here. But still it effect on the politics of Sub Continent no Doubt .

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  3. At 12:51 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Keith E Rice wrote:

    'Tariq Ali gets Benazir Bhutto wrong!' is the title of my latest blog.

    Yesterday (New Year's Eve) Tariq Ali, that notorious renegade from the 1960s, used the front page of The Independent and Radio 4's Today programme to attack the decision by the Pakistan People Party to accept Benazir Bhutto's will that her son be named as her successor. He called it "a disgusting medieval charade".

    My blog uses the Stratified Democracy concept of Don Beck (onetime advisor to Nelson Mandela) to explain why, in sociopsychological terms, Tariq is right to call the succession "medieval" and completely missing the point in calling it "disgusting" and a "charade".

    Links to the blog on the Home Page. Constructive comments and critiques, as always, are very welcome.

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  4. At 01:49 PM on 02 Jan 2008, straightchris wrote:

    Tariq Ali said on Democracy Now that Benazir’s brother Murtaza Bhutto could not have been assinated without the knowledge of her husband Asif Zardari at the very least.
    LINK

    “Pakistan now becomes the most dangerous of all current global flash-points. It is a nuclear power; and it harbours jihadists.”
    Manan Ahmed, of Juan Cole’s informed comment blog, said on the same Democracy Now programme (link above) that Pakistan is essentially a moderate country and Tariq Ali said that the Pakistan military will have complete control of the nuclear warheads.

    Jihadists, Islamists why not call them the same Taliban who were useful to US foreign policy in the region when they were fighting against the Russians?

    The irony is that Benazir’s student becomes the unelected leader of the PPP along with his corrupt father in the name of “democracy”. The PPP should find a better more experienced leader who hasn’t been convicted of embezzling $1.5 billion.


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