Benazir Bhutto’s Gamble

The terrorist attacks against Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, however horrific, have been a political boon for her, triggering a wave of public sympathy. But her alliance with President Pervez Musharraf is set to make it difficult to convert this changed public mood into increased political support.

As the initial shock of the terrorist attacks against Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto fade, it is becoming clear that they were a political boon for her, triggering a wave of public sympathy that extends well beyond her local Sindh stronghold. Yet despite this, Bhutto is finding it hard to convert this changed public mood into increased political support.
Bhutto, the head of the Pakistan People’s Party, needs all the support she can find after returning from exile. Her decision to form an alliance of convenience with Pakistan’s unpopular military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, continues to undermine her claim to be a restorer of democracy and champion of the street. The deal has lent greater public legitimacy to Musharraf, who will share some of the power he has monopolized. Yet there is little love and even less common policy between the two.
In theory, the suicide attacks against Bhutto should have brought them closer together. After all, Islamic militants have repeatedly tried to assassinate Musharraf. Instead, Bhutto accused members of Musharraf’s own party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), and his government of playing a role in the attack. “It remains a point that neither federal minister Ijazul Haq nor PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat were ever attacked by suicide bombers,” she said. Shujaat, only half-jokingly, returned the favor by calling her a terrorist. Musharraf denounced her statements.
Bhutto and Musharraf implicitly agree that Pakistan’s other democratic leader, Nawaz Sharif, should be kept in exile in Saudi Arabia until after the general election in January. But skewing the election in this manner hurts Bhutto more than Musharraf, reinforcing the sentiment that she is a stooge of the military, and that Sharif is the real democratic leader. This reinforces her need to maintain distance from Musharraf.
Almost everyone agrees that theirs is less a political alliance than a shotgun wedding. Much of the shotgun’s ammunition comes from the United States, which perceives keeping the military in power as being necessary for the short-term battle against the new Taliban groups. However, America also believes that rolling back popular support for Islamic fundamentalism in the long term requires a legitimate democratic government. Islamic parties have tended to benefit electorally when the democratic parties are politically hobbled.
The US hopes to get the best of both worlds. But it runs the risk of getting the worst of each: a civilian leader without legitimacy coupled with a military leader too weak to fight the Islamic militants who virtually rule the tribal areas near Afghanistan.
Likewise, Bhutto’s ability to play the Musharraf card and still maintain public support is fragile. A poll by the International Republican Institute in August showed that 47% of Pakistani voters supported a Bhutto-Musharraf alliance, with 37% opposed. Notably, nearly a third of Bhutto’s own party opposed such a deal.

Musharraf’s recent farcical reelection as president probably cost Bhutto support. The terrorist attacks and her response – attacking Musharraf's party, visiting the wounded in hospital, and offering to pay for their medical care – have probably earned some of it back. The question now is: can she keep it?


One concern for Bhutto is the role of the judiciary, which has no love for Musharraf. Their acquiescence in Musharraf’s reelection, however, appears to confirm rumors that the judges have come to terms with the generals. The wild card is the increasingly savage war between the Pakistani state and the Islamic militants who have established a de facto independent state – a so-called ‘Al Qaedastan’ – straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/PKerzXA;
  1. Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

    The Summit of Climate Hopes

    Presidents, prime ministers, and policymakers gather in Paris today for the One Planet Summit. But with no senior US representative attending, is the 2015 Paris climate agreement still viable?

  2. Trump greets his supporters The Washington Post/Getty Images

    Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

    • In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. 

    • Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
  3. Agents are bidding on at the auction of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

    The Man Who Didn’t Save the World

    A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

  4.  An inside view of the 'AknRobotics' Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Two Myths About Automation

    While many people believe that technological progress and job destruction are accelerating dramatically, there is no evidence of either trend. In reality, total factor productivity, the best summary measure of the pace of technical change, has been stagnating since 2005 in the US and across the advanced-country world.

  5. A student shows a combo pictures of three dictators, Austrian born Hitler, Castro and Stalin with Viktor Orban Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

    The Hungarian Government’s Failed Campaign of Lies

    The Hungarian government has released the results of its "national consultation" on what it calls the "Soros Plan" to flood the country with Muslim migrants and refugees. But no such plan exists, only a taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign to help a corrupt administration deflect attention from its failure to fulfill Hungarians’ aspirations.

  6. Project Syndicate

    DEBATE: Should the Eurozone Impose Fiscal Union?

    French President Emmanuel Macron wants European leaders to appoint a eurozone finance minister as a way to ensure the single currency's long-term viability. But would it work, and, more fundamentally, is it necessary?

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now