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Bhutto's Legacy

By David Warren

The queen is dead, long live the king. This is the message from Pakistan's "People's Party," founded forty years ago by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the machine to advance his own political career. At his death by judicial murder, the machine was inherited by his daughter -- with competition from his sons until both had died mysteriously. And at Benazir Bhutto's death, it is now inherited by her 19-year-old son, Bilawal, under the guardianship of his corrupt father. The many prize idiots in the Western media who presented Ms Bhutto as a beacon of democracy are now perhaps beginning to grasp what path she was lighting.

The creed of the PPP -- "Islam is our faith, democracy is our politics, socialism is our economy, all power to the people" -- consists of three calculated lies followed by a howler. A more honest creed might be, "Government of the Bhutto, by the Bhutto, and for the Bhutto."

By the accident of holiday schedules, I was relieved of the burden of writing about the assassination next day. Happily (a relative term), because, as we say in Latin, "De mortuis, nihil nisi bonum." Of the dead, speak nothing but good. But now, a few days have passed.

Those who thought Ms Bhutto the agent of democracy and progress, because she was young and a woman and told them in fluent English exactly what they wanted to hear, should know that she, like every other woman who has risen to power in the region, including a prime minister of India, two in Bangladesh, and now two in Sri Lanka -- inherited dynasties founded by powerful men. The (murderous) "Good Queen Bess" did not rise to the throne in 1558 on a wave of democracy and feminism in late mediaeval England. She rose as the daughter of the (murderous) Henry VIII. It is the failure to grasp such simple facts that makes so much Western journalism ridiculous.

I have been reading much rubbish in celebration of Ms Bhutto's life. A number of my fellow pundits have further provided personal memoirs: it seems dozens of them were her next door neighbour when she was studying at Harvard or Oxford or both.

She was my exact contemporary, and I met her as a child in Pakistan, so let me jump on this bandwagon. I remember her at age eight, arriving in a Mercedes-Benz with daddy's driver, and whisking me off for a ride in the private aeroplane of then-President Ayub Khan (Bhutto père was the rising star in his cabinet). This girl was the most spoiled brat I ever met.

I met her again in London, when she was studying at Oxford. She was the same, only now the 22-year-old version, and too gorgeous for anybody's good. One of my memories is a glimpse inside a two-door fridge: one door entirely filled with packages of chocolate rum balls from Harrod's. Benazir was crashing, in West Kensington, with another girl I knew in passing -- the daughter of a former prime minister of Iraq. They were having a party. It would be hard to imagine two girls, of any cultural background, so glibly hedonistic.

After her father's "martyrdom" Bhutto became, from all reports, much more serious. But I think, also, twisted -- and easily twisted, as the spoiled too easily become when they are confronted with tragedy. She became pure politician. Think of it: she, a libertine in previous life, submitted to an arranged marriage, because she needed a husband to campaign for office. Stood by him in power only because there was no other political option when he proved even greedier than she was.

Twisted, in a nearly schizoid way. For she was entirely Westernized, but also Pakistani. She thought in English, her Urdu was awkward, her "native" Sindhi inadequate even for giving directions to servants. Part of her political trick, in Pakistan itself, was that she sounded uneducated in Urdu. This is as close as she got to being "a woman of the people."

Brave, unquestionably brave. Which I would qualify by adding it was one facet of a wilfulness not otherwise attractive. She was irresponsible to make her assassin's job so easy, by campaigning in plein-air after what had happened in Karachi; wrong to lure so many to their own deaths around her.

Faced with the actual problems of Pakistan, she twice made a disastrous prime minister. Her death obviates a third term. But the legacy creates as large a mess. She tutored her supporters to blame President Musharraf for any harm that might come to her, so that when Al Qaeda pulled off the murder, they scored twice. In addition to killing a hated symbol of Westernization, they set the mobs not against themselves, but against Musharraf. As I have argued before in these columns, for all his visible faults, Musharraf has been dealing to the limit of his abilities and opportunities with the actual problems of Pakistan.

Copyright 2008, Ottawa Citizen

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