ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pakistan: A Year of Moving On

27 December 2008, the first anniversary of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, was not only a day for paying tributes but also an occasion to reflect on the direction Pakistan has taken over the past year. The assassination set off a series of events that no one could have predicted. With so much popular support, with a weakened establishment and retreating military, real democracy was poised to take root in Pakistan after the elections of February 2008. Sadly, however, the Zardari government has done the greatest disservice by not taking the steps necessary to deepen democracy in the country.

27 December 2008, the first anniversary of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, was not only a day for paying tributes but also an occasion to reflect on the direction Pakistan has taken over the past year. The assassination set off a series of events that no one could have predicted.

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAEconomic & Political Weekly EPW january 3, 20099PPP and Benazir Bhutto have been very surprised that despite the fact that her party is in power and her assassination was caught on film and was shown imme-diately after she died and thousands of times since, no attempt to identify her killers has been made. This very clear conscious omission has given rise to nu-merous conspiracy theories about who was actually involved in the murder and about those who knew of the culprits. A close reading of newspapers on the day of her first death anniversary seems to point towards some senior members of the present government. The need to wash over the scene of the crime and to not investigate the murder of a former – and at that time the next likely – prime minister suggests that those in power have decided to move on and close the Benazir Bhutto chapter.Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of having Zardari’sPPP sans Benazir Bhutto in power has been that many urgent and essential political tasks, which needed to be completed if democracy was to take root in Pakistan, seem to have been aban-doned. It is difficult to speculate what would have happened if Benazir Bhutto had been alive and she had won the elec-tions of 2008, but the marked difference that one sees in her type of politics and that of her husband is that there seems to be a lack of attention by the current gov-ernment to key political issues. President Zardari’s democratically elected PPP govern-ment may actually have done the greatest disservice to the process of deepening democracy in Pakistan. While there has always been a huge disconnect between the form and substance of democracy in Pakistan, because key political and demo-cratic issues have been ignored by President Zardari and his government over the last year, the transition to democracy may have become considerably compromised.Sentiments towards DemocracyBecause Benazir Bhutto had cut a deal with the then president Pervez Musharraf to return to Pakistan. If she had come to power following the 2008 elections, one does not know with how much freedom she would have asserted her independ-ence and implemented her own political agenda. However, after her assassination the political tempo of Pakistan changed considerably and it became clear that whichever the party that would form the government, it would have a freer hand in pushing the democratic agenda far further than perhaps at anytime in Pakistan’s his-tory since 1971. Throughout 2007, follow-ing the lawyers’ movement which started in March, Pervez Musharraf’s 3 November Martial Law/Emergency, and the 27 De-cember assassination of Bhutto, there was a huge momentum against the military, against the war on terror, and against Musharraf and his government, a senti-ment which turned positive towards de-mocracy, participation and representa-tion. With so much popular support, with a weakened establishment and a retreat-ing military, real democracy was poised to take root in Pakistan. Sadly, however, by not responding to certain necessary inter-ventions in the political process, the Zard-ari government has failed to strengthen democracy in Pakistan, and may have ac-tually built the ground to weaken it.Leading up to the elections of February 2008, people and voters had come to expect a number of key issues to be addressed. These included the ouster of Musharraf after his party lost the election, the hope that the retired general-president would be held accountable for his anti-demo-cratic nine years, the reinstatement of the deposed chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a repeal of Mush-arraf’s Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, a repeal of Article 58 2(B) of the Constitution which allows the presi-dent of Pakistan to dismiss the elected government, and a wish list which hoped that a coalition between Zardari’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League could have tried to clip the military’s wings and assert civil power over what in Pakistan is called “the establishment”. All that has happened is that Zardari has removed Musharraf and has become president himself. Musharraf was not tried nor held accountable. And none of the other political tasks were addressed, all of which would havestrengtheneddemocracy to no end. This has been the third occasion, follow-ing 1971 and 1988, where democracy’s greatest failure has been its inability and unwillingness to further democracy in Pakistan itself. The incomplete tasks have been made more complicated after the Mumbai terror attacks and have resulted in the resurrec-tion of Pakistan’s military as the country’s saviour. The war cries coming from the Indian media have resulted in the Pakistani media and public looking towards the mil-itary to provide a formidable response to India’s reactions to the attacks. Following Musharraf’s ouster and until the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan’s military was largely on the sidelines of the political map in Pakistan despite the ineffectiveness of its further neutering by the Zardari government. Had the Zardari government moved ahead with the democracy-strengthening and deepen-ing tasks with, in particular, Nawaz Sharif, it would have been able to establish demo-cracy’s writ over all institutions in the country. Had this been done early in the democratically elected and popular govern-ment’s tenure, even the Mumbai attacks would have kept the Pakistani army at some distance from the centre of power. By not doing so an incident like the Mumbai attacks has brought the Pakistani military right back into the folds of power where it is be-ginning to reassert its dominant position in what is called the “troika”, made up of the politicians, bureaucracy and the military.People’s ExpectationsFor the PPP and for those who have invested in it, a year after Benazir Bhutto’s assassi-nation much has changed and moved on.A new type of leadership with different his-tories and profiles now leads the party and Pakistan. While there has been a clear break from the past in this regard, what has, sadly, not changed, is the continued prominence of the military on Pakistan’s political map. While there is still a small though narrowing opportunity to further the democratic agenda, there is a growing possibility that unless it is actively and collectively dealt with, the military may again dominate Pakistan’s political process sometime in the future. If that were to happen, and by all accounts given Pakistan’s history it is not an impossible event, at least this time round Benazir Bhutto will not directly be held responsible for giving democracy a bad name. Those on thefirst anniversary of her assassination who claim to have inherited her legacy will have to bear that responsibility.

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