13 May 2007

"Benazir Bhutto, daugher of the east" by Benazir Bhutto

In his book “Prisoner without a name and cell without a number” Jacobo Timerman says that oppressed population go through three stages during the course of oppression: anger, fear and apathy. For "anger and fear" Pakistan did not have to look beyond General Zia-ul-Haq. For apathy they did not have to look beyond Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir, in 1988, was Mannah coming down from heaven for Pakistan.

She was the first born of the elite aristocratic Bhutto family. (Charles Napier, famous for his “Peccavi – I have Sinned” pun writes that Bhutto landholding was so extensive that he would travel for hours in Sind and yet be in Bhutto land). She went to Radcliffe and later to Oxford. She was the first woman president of the Oxford Union.

Young Benazir, 23 when her father was murdered by Zia, was kept in prison by Zia for several years. Undaunted by all this, she provided leadership to PPP, her political party. When allowed to go out of Pakistan in 1984 she continued to run the party from her Barbican apartment in London.

In 1986 she decided to return courageously to Pakistan when Zia was ruling. People defied military rulers and gave her a welcome that remains unrivalled. She continued to whip up her agenda for bringing democracy back to Pakistan for the next two years.

1988 proved to be a turning point for Pakistan and Bhutto. Zia’s role for Pakistan to be a frontline state in the war against communism proved to be temporary. Zia’s role for Pakistan to be a frontline state in evangelizing Wahabi Islam proved to be permanent. Zia died in an air accident. Benazir Bhutto became the first woman PM of Pakistan when she was just 35 yrs.

Until this time her life is a story that inspires. After becoming PM hers is a story of lost opportunities.

She did not use her power base to enshrine democracy and was comfortable securing a position of power in existing autocratic frameworks. This allowed Ghulam Ishaq Khan (a civil servant who succeeded to become President) to dismiss her once and Farooq Laghari (an underling who got elected to be President due to Benazir’s support) to dismiss her again.

She did not ensure her husband was above suspicion. Pakistan government had detained her husband in prison for more than 6 years on 90 charges of corruption though it has not secured conviction in even one case . However, it is not easy to ignore the fact that Zardari, not rich at the time of marriage to Benazir, owns a 355 acre property south of London according to Wikipedia.

Benazir is a good writer though. Some interesting snippets:

The feelings of an educated young Muslim girl wearing a barkah for the first time are vividly described. The world was not the same through gauze. The build up of humidity inside the cloak was uncomfortable. Her relief when her father tells that she does not need to wear a barkah is immense. However, it was her father’s decision; not hers. Who is the liberal?

Benazir Bhutto rightly feels that the West does not care for freedom in frontier states as much as freedom at home:

(a) In 1958 US trained Pakistan Army in “immobilizing” a government through strikes. The operation was titled “Operation Wheeljam”. Why would US want to do that? Why would Pakistan army want to get trained in that?

(b) Margaret Thatcher, in a trip to Pakistan, praised Zia and declared Pakistan to be the “last bastion of freedom”. An example where a leader's wisdom has not kept pace with knowledge.

(c) Undersecretary of State James Buckley testified before US Congress that “elections were not in the best interest of the security of Pakistan”. Another example of paucity of wisdom.

Pakistan had a long term price to pay. After the Afghan war, Kalashnikovs were available, according to Benazir, for $ 40 in Karachi. One can rent by the hour too. Landowners and Industrialists began to employ private armies to protect themselves. By 1983, Pakistan had become the major supplier of heroin to the World with some support from the State. (Abdullah Bhatti, one of the two drug bosses, was arrested and sentenced by a military court. But Zia intervened and gave him a Presidential pardon, a power he never used for anyone else!). Narco terrorism was born.

The second major impact was on women. Zia introduced the Hudood ordinances whereby a woman charging a rape should prove it with four male witnesses; otherwise she would face adultery charges herself. Safia Bibi, a blind servant girl was raped by her employer and his son; and could not prove it – rape rarely being conducted in public. The two men went free and Safia was charged with adultery. Campaigns by outraged women saved Safia Bibi; but not other less fortunate women.

However, Benazir is not as eloquent about her times as PM as about her times as a prisoner. There is very little about her challenges as a PM: her failure to get a good constitution written, her failure in dealing with Presidents who never had public mandate, her failure in dealing with traditional power brokers in the army, in the ISI, her failure to rein in her husband; her initiatives for development of social and economic aspects of Pakistan and her failure in engaging with India. In the end, she got consumed by the very forces she tolerated as a prisoner and as a PM. Pakistan did not revolt when she moved out to Dubai.

The book is interesting when it deals with the anger and fear till 1988; and gets boring when it reaches the stage of Jacob Timerman’s “apathy” after 1988. Benazir too does not think the period is important and devotes 90% of the book for her first 35 years till she becomes PM and just 10% for the next 19 years as PM, Opposition leader and Leader-in-exile.

When it was first published in 1988, I liked the book. Today, am just bored.


N.Kartik said...

Super review ! I always check toprack before going to a book shop. I read Kargil and India's foreign Policy basis your review.

You might also wish to read Tehmina Durrani's European best seller - My Feudal Lord. It gives good insight into the politics of Pakistan from the 60's till late 90's. More importantly one gets to understand the psyche of the Pakistani society which is rooted in feudalism.You will also see snippets of how Indian security agencies were involved during Pakistan's milatary rule.

T R Santhanakrishnan said...

Way to go Kartik. Would look for "My feudal lord".