Had Benazir lived...

Published: December 27, 2010

President Asif Ali Zardari shakes hands with PML N chief Nawaz Sharif and ANP leader Asfandyar Wali on February 27. 2008, soon  after the PPP emerged victorious in the 2008 general elections (above). President Zardari addresses the UNGA (right). Benazir Bhutto (above) with the PPP’s senior vice chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim (R) during a campaign rally minutes before Bhutto was assassinated. Fahim was selected to be Prime Minister during a closed-door meeting in Islamabad media reports said on 23 February 2008.

Benazir Bhutto arrived in Pakistan in October 2007 against the advice of the Musharraf establishment. She had pushed the envelope on the deal she had concluded with Musharraf and the party he was leading, arousing all kinds of misgivings in the establishment. Now that she was in Pakistan ahead of schedule, the panoply of power in Islamabad had to suffer her.

As Benazir went around the country trying to revive the enthusiasm the electorate had once felt for her and her party, she would be aware of the cards she had up her sleeve. She was a part of the US policy of ‘diversification of support’ — the policy the US turned to after realising that Musharraf was either playing a double game or was simply not able to convince the military establishment to act effectively against the Taliban terrorists and their patron al Qaeda.

American support to her was to be conditional to her pushing Musharraf towards actions he was not taking, especially in the increasingly troubled FATA region where his subordinate generals were concluding predictably useless ‘peace deals’ with Taliban leaders who were determined to eliminate Musharraf and pluck Pakistan away from its alliance against terrorism. But she would have to strategise her return in the light of her past experience with the Pakistani establishment.

The al Qaeda, put off by the United State’s policy insistence to set up a rival to Musharraf to make him act faster and more effectively against the spreading counter-writ of the Taliban, would have issued new CD messages with Al Zawahiri proclaiming that a woman could not be a leader of the Muslims. This would have been echoed by allied madrassas across Pakistan. Growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan would have been used by the ISI to make people see her as an American Trojan horse sent in to enslave Pakistan.

Anti-PPP elements within the establishment — much abetted by the PML Q’s inherited hostility towards the Bhuttos — would have played ball. Once again the deal between Musharraf and Benazir would have caused rifts. The rightwing press would have dug up her past statements supporting Dr A Q Khan’s surrender to the Americans despite the fact that she had denied them. She would have soon to contend with clear signs of pre-election rigging in favour of a heavy tilt in favour of PML Q.

PPP regional leaders would have engaged in bickering with their counterparts over how much the coming vote would go to the two parties riding together as a coalition for the next five years. Much bitterness would have flowed from this, mostly over how power was to be shared in Punjab, where Pervaiz Elahi had run a good government and was nursing ambitions of becoming prime minister. The PPP would have insisted on pocketing Punjab as a part of the coalition deal.

Benazir would have reached out to the PML N to defeat adverse rigging in Punjab by showing overwhelming popular support for an informal PPP-PML N electoral understanding. On the matter of the judges dismissed by Musharraf in November 2007, she would have joined the PML N and called for their reinstatement, thus getting Pakistan’s mostly rightwing anti-PPP lawyers behind her. She would have forced Musharraf to come to the table with her and give her the lion’s share in the government in return for her letting him remain president.

Her handling of Musharraf, however, would have been informed by her past experience with army chiefs and the military establishment. Her pre-election politics would have been aimed at not threatening to upset the Afghanistan strategy, a strategy with with which she clearly did not agree. She would have talked to the Americans constantly through their ambassador but would have also realised that the Democrats were certainly going to win the 2009 election and that pressure on the next incumbent for US-NATO withdrawal would increase.

Her intent behind returning home would clearly not have meshed with the American intent behind getting Musharraf to accept her back. Like Nawaz Sharif, she wanted to prevent the ‘political memory’ in Pakistan from dropping her party from the popular radar. She would have been cautious rather than rash in the country’s changed environment. But her relationship with Musharraf and the PML Q would have run into rough waters — as she had indicated in her last book and her letter to Musharraf in which she feared that certain members of the PML Q and elements in the intelligence agencies would plan to get rid of her.

Once in Pakistan, she would have taken a stance closer to the PML N- there were signs of this after the attack on her in Karachi. Her relationship with the MQM would have remained sour because of the latter’s close working partnership with Musharraf, but she would have applied pragmatism to her handling of the ANP. Returning from the wilderness and seeing all the changes in Sindh, she would have learned, however, to accept the MQM’s own ‘realism’ in not provoking the dominant Sindhi party.

Her post-election presence in the government would have been dicey. How was would the PML Q adjust to the change? It is quite possible that because of Punjab the tally of seats would have mandated a prime minister from the Chaudhry clan. (The 17th Amendment debarred both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir from premiership.) In case the 17th Amendment ban was removed, Benazir as coalition prime minister would have worked, but it would have been ‘overbalanced’ by Musharraf in the presidency, calling all the shots as far as foreign policy was concerned. The coalition would be rancorous and unstable. She would have therefore relied on her counterbalancing alliance with Nawaz Sharif on the basis of the 2006 Charter of Democracy.

Nawaz Sharif, of course, would have been back, his return forced by the Saudis. Benazir would have persuaded him to take part in the elections. The post-election government in Punjab would have belonged to PML Q, but would have been harassed by the two big parties in opposition. The Mumbai attack in 2008 would have caused a political earthquake, giving Benazir more leverage over Musharraf and the army. It would have been a very divided and internecine coalition over which Musharraf would have had to preside.

Benazir would have quickly realised that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had erred in not passing on the oil price hike the world was hit by in 2007. The Indian summer of the economic boom under him would clearly have been at an end when the 2008 worldwide crisis broke and found Pakistan with its pants down, with a circular debt overhang of 300 billion rupees. She would have severely rocked the coalition boat and worked for a mid-term election.

Published in The Express Tribune December 26th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Rana+Amjad
    Dec 27, 2010 - 1:25PM

    Excellent Analysis!Recommend

  • KM
    Dec 27, 2010 - 1:29PM

    The only reason she didn’t live, was the ignition in her to lead Pakistan as a TRUE PAKISTANI, or atleast a TRUE HUMAN BEING. The vices didnt like the rekindled Pakistani in her, and so took their chances to eradicate her, and strip Pakistan from its progressive destiny, in every way. Thus, paving the way for the liars, cheats and corrupts.Recommend

  • m
    Dec 27, 2010 - 1:31PM

    If she would have been there – Pakistan would have had a ‘leader’ of international standing. She would have guided us through the rough seas and pushed international diplomacy to new heights. If only we would have not killed yet another ‘leader’Recommend

  • MAD
    Dec 27, 2010 - 2:18PM

    Nothing would have changed.. just look at her past two governments. how they were and how they ended.Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmed
    Dec 27, 2010 - 2:47PM

    Had Benazir lived… Nothing would have changed.

    how were things any different in the two times she was the prime minister?Recommend

  • Omar
    Dec 27, 2010 - 3:11PM

    If she would still be alive, she would be criticized and opposed by the same people who today lament her death and have elevated her to near saint status. The truth is Pakistani politics would be at a near stand still if PPP hadn’t achieved its all out victory because of her death. None of the PML factions would have been compatible with PPP’s supposed manifesto and that would lead to the government ultimate unraveling. Recommend

  • Shahzada
    Dec 27, 2010 - 3:12PM

    Though she had to work through all the “deals” she was making here and there with stakeholders, we wish she could have become a true national leader, which she became after her death, alas…! its a tregedy of every shaheed since ages..but NOW we want a true leader who can pull us out of the hell that we all Pakistanis have landed !

    are you there Imran Khann !!!?Recommend

  • hana
    Dec 27, 2010 - 3:15PM

    Benazir was the most charismatic leader ever, may her soul rest in peace…Recommend

  • Khan
    Dec 27, 2010 - 3:31PM

    It seems that we are very comfortable with leaders like Nawaz Sharif & Shahbaz Sharif & cannot understand that we needed leaders like BB especially in the hour of crisis! We surely are very unfortunate.Recommend

  • soulhaker
    Dec 27, 2010 - 4:01PM

    oh come on….u know wat da prob of our nation is …we have r suffering from amnesia(short term memory loss)..we tend to forget everything…as if she has always been the Saviour of PAKISTAN…as if she has no part in the condition ..that our beloved PAKISTAN is in today…when are we gonna accept da facts ….hw long are we gonna keep accepting da lies as if dey were all true ….Recommend

  • rehan
    Dec 27, 2010 - 4:58PM

    if BB lived…PMLQ +PPP +Musrhaf govt would have come in presence..
    P.S: PPP won for two reasons 1) Media showed constantly that PPP and Mushraf were getting along 2) Her death Recommend

  • Cautious
    Dec 27, 2010 - 5:36PM

    Pretty safe to say that things could not get any worse than they are now – so
    BB would have been an improvement.Recommend

  • Morbid Isolation
    Dec 27, 2010 - 5:53PM

    I’m sorry but WHAT? The ‘system’ is flawed and Benazir was as big a part of it as any other politician. Just because she’s no more doesn’t mean that such biased analysis are put forth based on some kind of emotional misplaced loyalty towards a human being who was flawed in her thought and practice as a head of state.

    Benazir was ousted from power TWICE.Pakistan did not do any better under either of her ruling tenures.In fact, her brother was murdered in cold bold while she was in power and justice has not been served since. I’m not saying she did it or Murtaza Bhutto (her brother) was as pious as they come but when there’s blood on the streets, justice must be done…this is a civilized world we live in where even convicts and outlaws have rights in a court of law!

    If Benazir was still alive,things could have been slightly better ..but that’s a big IF given that she was coming back after years of exile and political arm twisting with promises of a clean slate from the United States for it’s own personal gain…she was a puppet neutralized by those pulling her strings…Recommend

  • Dec 27, 2010 - 6:12PM

    Had Bibi lived, we wouldnt have been so politically incorrect.Recommend

  • Dr. Kareem Amjad
    Dec 27, 2010 - 6:44PM

    All Things Pakistan did a much better analysis of this same question 2 years ago. I recomend it

  • Abdullah Gul
    Dec 27, 2010 - 7:53PM

    Had BB lived, our dear Mr. President would have been in Dubai enjoying polo & looking after their kids.Recommend

  • Anonymous!
    Dec 27, 2010 - 7:55PM

    had benazir lived, we would have had a mother of our country!Recommend

  • Mohammad naeem
    Dec 27, 2010 - 8:26PM

    BB herself was a great symbol of hope and recognised internationally. So for sure IF she would have been there we wont have been facing global isolation and our country would have not become playground for world terrorist activities. Recommend

  • roomi
    Dec 27, 2010 - 11:07PM

    Had she lived we would have have hope! Each time she came into power there were huge expectations but great hopes too. She dashed some of them. She was very young and the whole Military civil establishment was up against her it seemed. This time she seemed matured and wiser and despite her flaws remained our only truly “International ” leader and one can never forget the street party and carnival like scenes when she landed this time at karachi with people travelling from far flung places like Kashmir Frontier Punjab ( not just sindh )to welcome her. In our politics of increased ethnic groupings and prejudices she was the last NATIONAL leader in the true sense of the word. To the masses she still represented HOPE- a HOPE so brutally eliminated by the powers that be. It was one of the darkest days in our history. Recommend

  • Nadeem Ahmed
    Dec 27, 2010 - 11:39PM

    There is no reason BB would have been alive today. Her enemies were so determined to kill her that they would bomb their own home if BB happen to visit their own children. Friends, supporters and party leaders around her were ignorant, incompetent and corrupt that they did not tell her actual situation. The fact was, after siding with Musharaf, she was obligated to hear his advice. Once she landed in Pakistan, she changed her stance, i.e she tried to pose as anti Musharaf, it made Musharaf angry but did not make her enemies happy. The rest is history. PPP got another martyr and bankrupt nation got another annual expense.Recommend

  • Maria
    Dec 28, 2010 - 12:08AM

    Benazir has gone. Good or bad, she was a politician who was killed in tragic circumstances. There is no need to endlessly speak of her and parade her picture around. Let’s get over it and move on as a nation. It’s a testament to the resilience of Pakistan that all of these so called indispensible leaders like Benazir or Musharraf have come and gone but Pakistan remains. That should teach us that Pakistan is what matters. Let’s work for the stability of the nation and forget about characters and people. Pakistan Zindabad!Recommend

  • Dec 28, 2010 - 2:01AM

    Benazir Bhutto- bravest of the braves, wisest of the wise is no more with us but she’ll always be remembered as “Shaheed Rani” in the political history of Pakistan. May Allah bless her soul with peace.
    “for dictators, all over the world, democracy is the greatest revenge” she said this and she proved it twice. Although our short history as a nation is chequered by dictators but who remembers them? Where as Leaders like Z.A Bhutto and BB will always be close to the hearts of millions of Pakistanis.Recommend

  • jbutt
    Dec 28, 2010 - 3:37AM

    PPP would have lost the elections? No sympathy vote.Recommend

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