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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Charlatan? Genius? Star of an Elaborate Conspiracy?

posted by on November 13 at 8:59 AM

What has intrigued me about the Benazir Bhutto story is this: It’s never seemed to me like she was much of a popular figure (she was booted from office twice in disgrace). Her support has seemed soft in the Musharraf years. She hasn’t struck me as the type to swoop back in after exile, tap a real and formidable following, and spark a velvet revolution. Yet, that’s the role she appears to be playing.

Weird. At first, it made me think she was some kind of political genius: Exploiting the opportunity, foiling the actual formidable force in the country, the Islamists, and rising to power.

But now I’m not so sure. Musharraf’s focus on her, unwittingly turning her into a folk hero, seems so block headed that I’m actually starting to think he’s doing it on purpose. He’s turning her into a political symbol so he can pretend to relent by cutting a deal with her, rather than with the Islamists.

Two of Pakistan’s bigger opposition parties said Monday that they would probably boycott the elections if emergency rule was still in place. Ms. Bhutto has not said whether she would pull her party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, out of the elections. General Musharraf said Sunday that emergency rule would continue at least until the elections…

Raza Zafarul Haz, the chairman of one of the country’s biggest parties, the Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said that for free and fair elections to go ahead, emergency rule would have to be lifted and judges who were fired after the imposition of the rule would need to be reinstated…

As the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has usually commanded about a third of the popular vote, Ms. Bhutto is trying to steer a path between a desire to return to power and not to appear to be too close to the widely unpopular president…

Despite Ms. Bhutto’s tougher comments on Monday, analysts said they believed she had not completely moved away from her original plan, devised with the backing of the Bush administration, to seek a power-sharing deal with General Musharraf…

Ms. Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan twice and was twice dismissed before she was able to complete her terms.

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Last Friday on the Diane Rehm Show (NPR) they discussed the roots of Benazir Bhutto's popularity quite extensively. The Bhutto family is basically a feudal land owner with vast holdings. Benazir has been able to draw on that in terms of support from the uneducated in Pakistan. A lot of the supporters have been tenants on Bhutto land, worked for Bhutto enterprises, etc... While the house arrest of Bhutto is completely at odds with how a true democracy works it has only worked in Bhutto's favor as a PR tool. It is interesting to see how India and GB will start truly voicing their feelings about this as up to now they have been virtually silent.

Posted by Josh | November 13, 2007 9:08 AM

I have a similar theory about Bush -- that, now that he's ruined the country and destroyed the economy, he's doing his level best to alienate voters from the Republican party so that the Democrats will have to be the bad guys -- raise taxes and cut spending and all that. Then, after the Dems have spent 12 year or so fixing things, the Republicans can swoop back in for another round of out-of-control defense spending.

People keep telling me I'm giving him too much credit.

Posted by Judah | November 13, 2007 9:15 AM

Musharaff is the David Della of Pakistan. Not the brightest guy in the world.

Why would you invite her to share your goverment? I

I guess he no longer controls the army.

Posted by SeMe | November 13, 2007 9:25 AM

inviting her back, THEN declaring martial law wasn't a mistake. it was deliberate. musharraf is not nearly as dumb as GWB. exhibit A is he's still alive.

and "dismissed for corruption twice" doesn't mean the same thing in pakistan as it does here. corruption is a parking ticket, and it was political.

Posted by max solomon | November 13, 2007 9:56 AM

"He’s turning her into a political symbol so he can pretend to relent by cutting a deal with her, rather than with the Islamists."

Except that the Islamists are not leading a "velvet revolution" right now. The judges and lawyers are. And Bhutto doesn't speak for or lead them.

Posted by wf | November 13, 2007 10:00 AM

She's the voice of the non-Islamist, anti-Musharaf Pakistani. She's also the voice of the anti-Islamist, pro-Western foreign interests.

She's getting a lot of press in the US because we're not happy with Musharaf and his policy toward the Northwest Frontier.

The US is more than happy to provide pressure on the General through her. Without her, we have nothing.

Posted by six shooter | November 13, 2007 10:52 AM

I don't know enough about this to really say, and I suspect that's true of most posters here. However, I'll speculate anyway.

My understanding is that Bhutto has the support of 1/3 of the electorate. The more recent prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) has the support of another third (including some of the Islamists and the military), with greater support in Punjab province. One third supports a variety of smaller parties. One reason the military was able to take over is that the country was politically divided, with even the most popular figures opposed 2:1 and unable to lead the country.

During the Musharraf years, Bhutto and Sharif were both forced into exile. Sharif recently tried to return but hadn't pre-arranged any deals with Musharraf, so he was quickly deported. He's back in London now. Bhutto was let in because she tried to negotiate a power-sharing deal. Musharraf didn't get what he wanted thanks to the country's courts, so Musharraf reneged on negotiations and is trying to marginalize her. She's the focus of the opposition for the sole reason that she's the most popular opposition figure still in the country (and the only one with supporters in every part of the country, in every ethnic group, even if her overall support is matched by Sharif). The question is whether Sharif is consciously letting Bhutto take the lead so that when she fails he can make his own attempt. Or maybe he'll decide London's a nice place to stay.

It seems like the best course would be for Bhutto and Sharif to put aside their egos and form a unity opposition with the aim of a unity government not controlled by the military. Together, they could rally 2/3 of the country.

Posted by Cascadian | November 13, 2007 11:00 AM

The poor Pakastani people are fucked. Either they get the corrupt rule of elite civilians or they get a military dictatorship. Is it any wonder that the message of the Talaban types is appealing?

Too bad they have the bomb.

Posted by Westside forever | November 13, 2007 11:36 AM

Sharif and Bhuto use to hate each other. This whole thing just sounds like a put 2gether in the state department "revolution" just begging for an uprising. And Westside, the Taliban is only appealing to a small sector, yes its a bat crazy sector, but very small and mostly rural.

Posted by SeMe | November 13, 2007 11:42 AM

Is it true that Bhutto has a british passport? I'm surprised that the pakistan govt is ok with that..

Posted by kkk | November 13, 2007 11:59 AM

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