Benazir's Assassination: Implications for Pakistan's Democracy

03 Jan, 2008    ·   2457

Ashok Sharma assesses the likely fallout of Bhutto's assassination on prospects for democracy and on Indo-Pak ties

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a former two-time prime minister of Pakistan, in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007, just 10 weeks after she returned to her homeland from eight years in exile, has put a question mark on ongoing efforts to bring Pakistan in order. Her assassination has resulted in violence, riots and political turmoil in Pakistan. It requires an insight into ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan and implications that Benazir's death can have on the current political scenario.

Any prognosis of Pakistan's immediate political future remains unpredictable and many upheavals are likely to be witnessed there in the coming days. The US had been trying to reconcile Bhutto and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who under heavy US pressure resigned as army chief and in mid-December lifted a state of emergency allowing Pakistan to return to a path of democracy. By retiring from the military and becoming President for a second term, but this time without his uniform, Musharraf met a key demand of the international community.

Musharraf, who remains the supreme commander of the armed forces, with the power to sack civilian governments, will face fierce political opposition. His apparent game-plan seems to engineer a general election in such a manner, which will not weaken his position. This is possible only when no party gets a clear-cut majority in the National Assembly. His effort seemed to be towards ensuring that whether it was Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto who came to power, they should be dependent on the parties like PML led by Chaudhary Shujat, Jamat Ulema Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, or the MQM led by Altaf Hussein - all political parties loyal to him personally and to the army establishment. After the death of Benazir, Musharraf will have to face the wrath of the people as many people believe that Bhutto was not provided appropriate security by the Musharraf government which resulted in her killing by Taliban forces. The United States had welcomed Musharraf's retreat but this was not enough for Washington as it wanted an election that was free and fair with Benazir as their favorite. Musharraf will be faced with a tough time in tackling jihadis, the popular aspiration of people and US pressure to restore democracy in Pakistan. Bhutto's death has certainly dealt a blow to the game-plan of the US. But the US cannot leave nuclear Pakistan to fall into the hands of the Taliban or other anti-US forces. The debate in the US over Pakistan is in favour of the role of civil society in Pakistan's polity and Bush will try to ensure a polity in Pakistan in which the Awam (people) play a role. Thus, adding a new "A" in the earlier three "As" of Alalh, Army, and America.

Bhutto's death has disturbed the campaign for the 8 January parliamentary elections and the process of restoration of democratic government and election may be postponed for a few weeks. But, whenever election takes place the political parties are going to participate in the election. Bhutto's husband and son taking control of the Pakistan People's Party may help PPP ride on the sympathy wave created by Benazir's death and do well in the elections. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan expressed their unwillingness to participate in elections at this point of time but they are likely to participate. Once a democratic government is formed, there may arise a tussle between the new Prime Minister and President Musharraf. In that case the Army, which is always a power center in Pakistan, under new head Ashfaq Kiyani, may increase its grip once again and assert itself on Pakistan's polity. There is also the possibility that Musharraf may reimpose emergency if the situation goes out of control. Meanwhile, Taliban forces in Pakistan will continue their violent attacks jeopardizing the prospects for restoration of democratic government and order in Pakistan.

It is certain that disturbance and political turmoil or any sort of civil war in Pakistan will have its impact on India. There are likely to be no immediate repercussions for India in terms of jihadi terrorism or armed attacks. The Pakistani Army, ISI as well as political establishments seem to be bogged down with their own problems. Musharraf is not going to antagonize India and is likely to be more accommodating in dealing with New Delhi because of his problems in controlling Pakistan's Western front where US troops are threatening to cross the Durand Line, with over one hundred thousand troops fighting pro-Taliban forces and because of a violent uprising in Baluchistan, not to talk of the massive violent protests after of Bhutto's death. However, in the long run emerging trends of jihadi forces establishing themselves from the frontier areas in the west to cities in Pakistan's interior indicates a grave shift for India. Increasing sway of terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and in Pakistan keeps the threat for Indian security intact and the possibility of more terrorist attacks in India. Benazir was seen as a politician with a positive attitude towards India in recent years and one who was concerned about the increasing terrorist violence in the subcontinent. Certainly in Benazir, India has lost a politician who believed in democracy and reconciliation.