WASHINGTON: US media reported that the declaration of martial law has increased importance of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. “By declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has not only torn up that deal but once more transformed Bhutto into Pakistan’s main hope for democracy. “When Benazir Bhutto flew back to Pakistan just over two weeks ago, ending eight years in exile, she was widely criticised for returning in a deal with a dictator, though she insisted that her “understanding” with General Pervez Musharraf was the only way to avoid bloodshed,” Times magazine said in a report, adding that the only option now left with Benazir is to take General Musharraf head-on ‘as she did Pakistan’s last military dictator, General Zia-ul Haq 20 years ago.’
By jumping straight on a plane back to Karachi, she (Benazir) showed that confrontation with the men in uniform was exactly what she intended.”People want leadership,” she declared when she was finally allowed off the plane last night. “I came back so I could do this and raise their morale and bring back democracy. The military alone cannot deal with Pakistan’s problems.”
Two weeks after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt in which up to 145 people were killed, the 54-year-old mother of three is well aware of the possible cost. Her father was hanged by Pakistan’s last military dictator, her two brothers were murdered and her husband spent eight years in jail on charges that were never proved. She herself has spent much time in prison and under house arrest as well as in exile in London and Dubai.
Before her return she had justified her deal with the generals by saying: “We have two options – take to the streets to fight Musharraf, which means bloodshed, or work together towards national reconciliation and a transition to democracy. If we can do the latter then I think this shows we have learnt something.”
Perhaps she should have been less trusting. After all, when Musharraf seized power in 1999, he blamed her and Pakistan’s other former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, for the situation the country was in and swore that as long as he was in power they would never be allowed back into politics. That he should then do a deal letting Bhutto back into Pakistan last month and dropping corruption charges against her, showed how desperate he had become to remain in office.
Under this US and UK-brokered agreement, Musharraf would remain as president, though without his army uniform. Free elections would take place in January, with Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party expected to emerge as the largest force, making her prime minister.
Nobody familiar with Pakistani politics could imagine how the two would work together. Even with backing in Whitehall and Washington, Bhutto, the Oxford-educated democrat, and Musharraf, commander of an army that has run Pakistan for more than half of its 60 years, seemed an impossible alliance.
“It’s a marriage made in hell,” said Akbar Ahmed, professor of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington and former Pakistan high commissioner to London. “They stand for completely opposite things.” Bhutto condemned Musharraf’s actions and vowed to fight. But the violence that she had been so eager to avoid by doing a deal with Musharraf now seems unavoidable.
“The people of Pakistan had been expecting elections as promised by Musharraf so they will be disappointed,” said Wajid Shamsul Hasan a spokesman for Bhutto. “They will definitely come out on the streets and resist. He has opened up another front and this one will be suicidal.”-SANA