September 1, 2007


A friend of feudalism: Pakistan has long been ruled by an elite. Benazir Bhutto's return would perpetuate the old order (William Dalrymple, September 1, 2007, The Guardian)

[T]he west has always had a soft spot for Bhutto. Her neighbouring heads of state may be figures as foreign and frightening as, on one hand, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, and, on the other, a clutch of Afghan warlords, but Bhutto has always seemed reassuringly familiar - one of us. She speaks English fluently as it is her first language. She had an English governess and her childhood revolved around a succession of English colonial clubs like the Karachi Gymkhana. She went to a convent run by Irish nuns, and rounded off her education with degrees from Harvard and Oxford.

For the Americans, what Benazir Bhutto isn't is possibly more attractive than what she is: she isn't a religious fundamentalist, she doesn't have a beard, she doesn't organise mass rallies where everyone shouts "Death to America", and she doesn't issue fatwas against bestselling authors - even though Salman Rushdie went out of his way to ridicule her as the Virgin Ironpants in his novel Shame.

However, the very reasons that make the west love Benazir Bhutto are the same that leave many Pakistanis with second thoughts. Her English may be fluent, but you can't say the same about her Urdu which she speaks like a well-groomed foreigner: fluently but ungrammatically. Her Sindhi is even worse: apart from a few imperatives, she is completely at sea.

Few would argue with the proposition that democracy is almost always preferable to dictatorship; but it is often forgotten the degree to which Bhutto is the person who has done more than anything to bring Pakistan's strange variety of democracy - really a form of elective feudalism - into disrepute. During her first 20-month long premiership, astonishingly, she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation. Her reign was marked by massive human rights abuse: Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, extrajudicial killings and torture.

What's needed is a brutal democrat to put down the Tribal Areas. The General proved not to be very democratic--the question is, will Ms Bhutto be harsh enough?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 1, 2007 5:35 AM

The general wasn't brutal enough either. More brutality early on would have allowed him to be more democratic later.

Posted by: Patrick H at September 1, 2007 11:21 AM

She would be brutal, but whose side is she on?

Posted by: erp at September 1, 2007 7:02 PM

You have failed to mention that Benazir Bhutto is also welcome to the west due to her liberal and free life style. She has kept a good balance between east, where she apears fully clad from head to toe, and the west where she has frequently appeared in miniskirts, jeans and a few times in a bikini. Now let's see if this combination of east and west works out.

Posted by: Saeed at October 3, 2007 4:54 PM