Benazir's Conviction and Democracy in Pakistan

07 Jun, 1999    ·   196

Ashutosh Mishra says that those who support democracy in Pakistan would like Benazir to prevails as a balancing force

Benazir would never have imagined that history would repeat itself with such bestiality, forcing her to take asylum in London once again. The turn of events after she lost power have landed her husband Asif Ali Zardari in jail, children in Dubai for security reasons, and now herself helpless in London . Beneath all this upheaval is the recent trial which has come as a bolt from the blue.



The Ehtesab Bench of the Lahore High Court, on 15 April,1999 in sentenced five years imprisonment to Benazir and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari (a senator ), a fine of $ 8.6 million, disqualification from public office and confiscated their property on charges of corruption and misuse of public office. Both Ms. Bhutto and Senator Zardari were charged under sections 3(1(d) and 4(2) of the Ehtesab Act.. It seems that the verdict was  given in such a haste for two reasons. One, to divert world opinion from Pakistan walking into the Indian trap to test a ballistic missile. Two, to divert public attention in Pakistan from the decree issued by the London High Court of over $32.5 million against Punjab Chief Minister Shahabaz Sharif, his brother Abbas Sharif and father Mohammad Sharif.



The verdict sparked off widespread violence and disrupted life in Pakistan . After the verdict, people in Pakistan have started drawing a parallel between Nawaz Sharif and General Zia-Ul Haq imposing his dictatorial rule by crushing the opposition. Significantly, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)had described the conviction of Ms. Bhutto as a questionable exploitation of the accountability process for political ends. A careful analysis of the events, since Nawaz Sharif came to power in 1997, reveals that he has consolidated his position in a very planned way to ensure his government a long lease of life. He first repealed the Eighth Amendment through which the President had dissolved the Assembly on several occasions. Then he made Rafiq Tarar, former Chief Justice, President to allure the judiciary as well as the conservative element. He then sacked General Jehangir Karamat and made Parvez Musharaff the Army Chief. Now the only thorn left in his side was Benazir whom he has nailed through this verdict.



But Nawaz Sharif should realize that democracy in Pakistan is in a decisive phase. It has come this far after facing decades of struggle and suppression. Even today the roots of democracy are not strong and is under attack from Islamic fundamentalism. Some people are inviting intervention by the armed forces as they believe democracy is unsuitable for the system. Nawaz Sharif should learn from Pakistani history that whenever democracy has faltered army has walked out of the barracks to seize power. Ms. Bhutto's disqualification from politics will badly affect the country's democratic set up; a vacuum will be created, and be filled sooner or later by the ant-democratic forces. For better or worse the two party systems evolved in Pakistan over the last decade or so has revolved around the personalities of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. The departure of either from the political scene would disturb the equilibrium.



Besides, the imbalance in Pakistani democracy, with a powerful Prime Minister and no real system of checks and balances, will become more pronounced. This might create heart burning in the smaller provinces where voices can be heard decrying the over weaning dominance of Punjab in national life.. At present the PPP is the only political force, which can effectively oppose Pakistan Muslim League's policies within and outside the Parliament.



However, the people in Pakistan and supporters of the PPP and all those who support democracy would like Benazir to prevail as a balancing force. For this Benazir will have to plan with great farsightedness and direct the PPP struggle artfully. How she plays her cards now, will ensure whether she will make a comeback to Pakistan , as she did in 1986, or not. But the key, at present is to keep the struggle alive from across the seas.