Benazir Bhutto Sups With the Devil
by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis
Just before departing for her dramatic return to Pakistan after years of self-imposed exile, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told me of her joy at going home, and plans to rebuild democratic government in her nation.
Tragically, Benazir’s triumphant homecoming turned into a bloodbath as an attempt to assassinate her in Karachi left nearly 150 dead and hundreds wounded. While the Western media blamed Islamic radicals, Ms. Bhutto was quick to accuse unnamed elements within the armed forces and security establishment. She was, in effect, blaming Gen. Musharraf, the man with whom she is now expected to cooperate under a US-brokered power-sharing deal.
Meanwhile, Washington, and even the First Lady Laura Bush, have been blasting Burma’s military junta for brutal repression. At the same time, Pakistan’s US-backed military junta, which receive $1 billion monthly in covert US payments, is waging war against its own restive people, thousands of whom have been killed by the armed forces. According to the Bush Administration’s thinking, shooting and beating rebellious Buddhist monks is evil; shooting and beating rebellious Muslim religious leaders is "anti-terrorism."
I wished Benazir a bon voyage just before she left Dubai for her historic return home, and cautioned her that my extensive reader mail from Pakistan was running very much against her because of the deal she had made with military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf to allow her return. I reminded her of the old saying, "he who sups with the Devil had better use a very long spoon."
The widespread view among Pakistanis is that Benazir’s return and impending political power-sharing with Musharraf was engineered by Washington to add a veneer of legitimacy of democracy to his discredited military regime. Unless Bhutto can quickly and decisively distance herself from Musharraf and his Bush Administration sponsors, and show she is really in charge as prime minister, she and her cause may be gravely tarnished.
The US-arranged back-room deal between Bhutto and Musharraf also flies in the face of her claims to be restoring democracy to troubled Pakistan. He is dropping criminal charges for corruption against her — which the general insists are legitimate and she denies — in exchange for her cooperation with his military regime. There is no disguising that this is a tawdry deal worked out with two of Washington’s staunchest Pakistani supporters.
As reported in my recent columns, the US has filled all senior positions in Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence service, ISI, with pro-American generals approved by the Pentagon and CIA. Even if Musharraf is ousted or blown up, the US believes it can retain firm control over Pakistan and use its armed forces to wage war there and in Afghanistan against nationalist and Islamist forces battling Western influence.
The military rules Pakistan. Musharraf and his American patrons run Pakistan’s military. So what is left for future prime minister Bhutto?
If Pakistanis conclude she is being cynically used, as it now appears, her political career could founder. If she can somehow push Musharraf and his generals back to their barracks, she will emerge triumphant. One suspects that Bhutto is hoping that Washington will abandon the highly unpopular Musharraf, ease him out of power, and make her the sole leader of Pakistan — with the US-dominated armed forces continuing to hold the real power behind the scenes.
Given the dizzying current political confusion between Musharraf, Bhutto, the Supreme Court, and exiled former PM Nawaz Sharif, it’s impossible to predict what will happen next. But one thing is certain: recent polls show a majority of Pakistanis believe America under President George Bush has launched a war against Islam, and that Musharraf is America’s agent in Islamabad. These disturbing beliefs could easily lead to increasing violence, even full-scale civil war.
Even if Musharraf and Bhutto eventually agree on some form of power-sharing, they will find themselves riding a tiger. America’s 2001 invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan, and Washington’s ongoing efforts to control Pakistan’s government, have ignited a spreading regional insurrection against western influence.
If the simmering civil war in nuclear-armed Pakistan blows into a wider conflict, the result will be an exceptionally dangerous world crisis in which nuclear-armed India could quickly become involved. The growing threat of a US attack on Iran will only deepen and spread the danger. An explosion in Pakistan would also isolate US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s most important national institution, the armed forces, has failed its duty to the nation. Instead of allowing itself to be rented like the sepoys in the mercenary armies of Britain’s 19th-century Imperial Indian Raj to wage war on its own people, Pakistan’s military should be ensuring its commanders serve the interest of the nation, rather than foreign powers. $1 billion a month rents a lot of cooperation, it is true. But Pakistan’s once proud soldiers have sold their honor cheap.