Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 22 October 2007

in turmoil

Last week’s bombings as Benazir Bhutto returned indicate that Pakistan is in for more crises and violence.  Some blame outside powers for the country’s past and present predicament.


Last week, at the top of the global news were the two bomb blasts in Karachi that were aimed at opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as she returned from exile to fight in the coming elections.

Many in Pakistan and around the world are shaking their heads, asking “What now?  What else?”

The country has been plunged from crisis to crisis since General Pervez Musharraf seized power and especially since the United States-led war in Afghanistan in the wake of September 11.

Musharraf has had to do many balancing acts at the same time.  He revealed in his book last year that the United States had threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” if it did not cooperate in the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan collaborated in ousting the Taliban, a movement that it had helped to start, from power in Afghanistan after that country was bombed, perhaps back to almost the Stone Age.

Musharraf has had to balance between pleasing the United States, or at least convincing the superpower that it is on their side, and facing the population, many of who are against the U.S. policy and actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, and who consider his pro-US stance to be a betrayal.

Musharraf has to deal with a range of Muslim political parties and movements, some of which had tacitly supported him and many others who oppose him.  More recently, he  aroused their anger after the violent taking over of the Red Mosque in which many died.

And he is trying to balance between wanting to remain in power which he captured in a military coup, and to show the world that somehow his administration supports democracy and free elections.

Mrs. Bhutto, exiled and facing corruption charges, returned to Pakistan as part of a pact with Musharraf that she would lead her party in parliamentary elections and probably become prime minister while he remains President.

Many see this power-sharing formula as an opportunity for Musharraf, who faces a lot of opposition despite winning the Presidential election earlier this month, to be able to remain in power.

Mrs. Bhutto would provide a democratic front for a military ruler, as the Pakistani journalist Ziauddin Sardar put it.  

There would be the “balance” or blend between continued authoritarian rule and a democratic façade.   

The whole scheme is strongly supported (and some say nurtured) by the United States 

and United Kingdom.

But there are many forces within Pakistan against this plan.  Those opposed to Musharraf see Mrs. Bhutto’s move as a betrayal of democratic principles, and opportunism on her part to get some semblance of the power while supping with the dictator.

Benazir Bhutto came home to a tumultuous welcome from her supporters only to have the events stopped by the bomb blasts that killed 130 people and which could have killed her. 

To date, it is not clear who is responsible.  The police says it is investigating militants linked to al-Qaeda. Mrs Bhutto’s husband blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

She has vowed to continue with her political campaign in order “to save Pakistan and to save democracy.”

Some Pakistanis view their country’s problems as being caused, at root, by the interference of outside powers.

Last Friday, as details of the bomb blasts were still trickling in, a Pakistani diplomat told me his country would continue to be plagued with crises as long as powerful foreign countries continued to exert such great influence on the country.

Ziauddin Sardar, writing in The Guardian (London), said:  “The country has shown once again that political opportunism, home grown and nourished by foreign interests, is deadly for ordinary Pakistanis.

“Over the six decades of its existence, Pakistan has functioned not as a nation but a geo-strategic utility.  It has been picked up and put down as dictated by the proxy interests of outside powers.

“As a consequence, Pakistan has suffered from all the unintended yet predictable effects of being a sideshow to other people’s strategic interests…

“Those who feel most powerless to affect the fate of Pakistan are the Pakistanis themselves.  Until the capacities and interests of its own people set the national agenda, then hope, reform, change, moderation and new direction will never materialize.”