Published December 24, 2008

What Bhutto could have Done?
Waris Husain

 It seems striking, but a full year has passed since the murder of Pakistan’s future Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. The country seems to be on a one way road to disaster. Perhaps, rather than lamenting on her loss, Pakistanis and especially those running the government currently, should think of how things would be different under Bhutto.

            While there are many issues that would have been approached differently by Bhutto, I believe the general leadership in Pakistan’s new civilian government would have been stronger under her control rather than Zardari. First, unlike Zardari who has never run for an election in his life, Bhutto was a trained politician who understood the art and war of politics, similar to the Sharif brothers.

 The missteps by Zardari which tore apart the PPP’s coalition with Muslim League (N) probably would have not occurred if Bhutto was in office. While it was inevitable that these two parties would split at some point, the manner of the split was indicative of Zardari’s inadequacy as a leader. Instead of parting ways as ideological counterparts, Zardari reneged on deals made with the N League and made assertions that ruined the credibility of the PPP in the eyes of the people.

Bhutto would have approached the reinstatement of the justices differently as well, since she was a supporter of the lawyers’ movement. Perhaps one of the reasons why the democratic civilian government was able to garner so much popular support was their support of the lawyers’ movement. However, this support was only extended over the campaign trail, and once Zardari was placed in power, he acquiesced to the powers that be in the military structure and halted the government’s support of the justices.

While the military had great interests in suppressing an independent judiciary, Bhutto may have been able to withstand this pressure and pursue the goal of reinstating the justices with greater efficiency than Zardari, who buckled under the demands. Such a simple act as reinstating the justices immediately could have garnered even more support from the elites and populace, while sending a message to the military that the civilian government would not succumb to their demands.

 Though I have painted a rosy picture of Pakistan’s future had Bhutto not been assassinated, there are many things that she could not have changed because of long-standing complexities of certain issues. The first and most contentious is the uncontrolled power of the ISI to do whatever it wants inside and outside the realms of Pakistan, and the power it has over the civilian government. It would have been hard for Bhutto to challenge the ISI’s prevalence because it is one of Pakistan’s longest running and best funded agencies and has contacts with terrorist groups across the globe.

Next, Bhutto would have had an equally hard time battling the growing terrorist threat in the border regions as Zardari’s government is having. The complexity of this situation is that the government must strike a balance of appeasing American demands of bombings on terrorist compounds while also pacifying the populaces of those regions who are becoming increasingly angered and detached from the central government. This delicate balance would be hard even for a seasoned politician like Bhutto since the issue of terrorism is where domestic and foreign interests converge.

It is clear that Pakistan suffered a great loss in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and many argued that her death would spark a true revolution against terrorist elements within Pakistani society. So far, such a revolution has not occurred, and much can be blamed on the central government and their lack of adequate leadership for the lack of said revolution.

Bhutto could have served as a more effective mediator between the N Leauge and the PPP, and she would have been able to reinstate the justices with greater efficiency. However, the dominance of the military would have still prevailed if Bhutto were alive, and the ISI would continue to operate without any civilian control over it. Further, the rise of terrorism and the methods used to deal with the threat would not have been much different under Bhutto due to the complexities of the situation.