The legacy of Benazir Bhutto

Joel Cosgrove

No one should be crowing about the way in which Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, died – killed by an assassin’s bullet at the end of a political meeting in Rawalpindi on December 27.

Yet the obituaries that quickly flowed across the Western world following her death illustrated the way in which history is being constantly rewritten to suit the times. Bhutto is not being remembered for the trail of corruption that littered her two previous terms as prime minister. Nor for her husband Asif Ali “10%” Zardari and the serious charges of money laundering laid against the both of them.

She is remembered, rather, as someone who could have made positive change in Pakistan, someone who “coulda been a contender”. A belief fostered and promoted, when in fact nothing in Bhutto’s political legacy could be described as either accountable or progressive. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It is also ironic that it is Al Qaeda who are being blamed for the killing, as it was Bhutto’s government in the mid-90s that promoted and supported the current fundamentalist Muslim groups prevalent in Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan, notably the Taliban.

Bhutto had withdrawn in a self-imposed exile to escape both political and legal pressure after her second government had collapsed amidst another corruption scandal in 1996. Then in October 2007, after a decade or more in exile, she suddenly appeared back in the spotlight with the support of the western imperialist powers (currently caught up in the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan, and rapidly losing patience with the discredited Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf), and all her previous crimes were forgotten.

Bhutto was the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the first elected prime minister of Pakistan. He was the founder of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, which took power following the Civil War of 1971, leading to the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. The PPP’s slogan was “Islam is our religion, democracy is our politics, and socialism is our economics”. This gave it a progressive liberal veneer, but in reality the party relied for much of its support on appeals to Sindhi and Punjabi chauvinism, as well as on the status of the Bhutto clan as powerful feudal landlords. Zulfikar Bhutto was deposed in a coup by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977 and executed two years later.

Benazir’s political life mirrored her father’s closely, only bastardising his politics even further – updating the PPP slogan for a new set of (Western) supporters by stating that “Islam is our religion, democracy is our politics, and the justice of the Prophet Mohammad is our economics.”

Bhutto was the self-declared leader for life of the PPP in the same way her father was. This is the product of the pernicious influence of the Bhutto clan in the regional politics of what is now Pakistan, with their influence stretching much further back into history than the sixty-year existence of the Pakistani state. With Bhutto’s 19-year-old son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari taking accession of the PPP “crown” on his mother’s death, the family ownership of the party continues.

This was the secular leader lionised and promoted by the West and in particular by the United States. A contradiction that could only end in a similar manner to the dozens of interventions by the US into the third world in the last fifty years – that is, in the worst interests of the masses and in the best for the small group who benefit from the ongoing imperialist exploitation of Pakistan.

One Reply to “The legacy of Benazir Bhutto”

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