Pakistan Update: “This Grotesque Feudal Charade”

by matttbastard

The Election Commission has postponed general elections, originally scheduled for January the 8th. Elections are now scheduled to be held on February the 18th, much to the chagrin of opposition leaders:

“It is risky,” said one Western diplomat, who would speak only anonymously, following diplomatic protocols. “Anything could happen because any straw or incident could ignite more violence or reaction against the government.”Condemning the violence and expressing his sorrow at the death of Ms. Bhutto, President Pervez Musharraf went on national television to explain the election delay and to dampen public anger. He acknowledged there was confusion over the way she died and said he had requested the assistance of a British team from Scotland Yard to help with a new and more thorough investigation.

“I myself want to go into its depths and want to tell the nation,” he said. “It is extremely important to bring the nation out of confusion. I am sure this investigation with the help of Scotland Yard will remove all doubts and suspicions.”

The postponement was the right decision, the president said, and he promised free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections, emphasizing the word peaceful.

The decision to delay the elections was immediately denounced by Ms. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, now the co-chairman of her Pakistan Peoples Party, who had demanded that the voting proceed on time partly to capitalize on the expected sympathy vote. The other main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, called this week for President Musharraf to resign and for a neutral interim government to be appointed.

An alliance of smaller opposition parties, which is already boycotting elections, announced that it would start planning protests across the country, suspecting that President Musharraf would keep postponing the voting indefinitely.

As noted by the Times, Musharraf also announced that he was bowing to international pressure, requesting outside assistance from Scotland Yard in the investigation of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination:

The 30-minute speech was Mr Musharraf’s first major public address since Ms Bhutto’s death.

Mr Musharraf referred to “the pain and anger” of Ms Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), especially in her home province of Sindh.

He paid tribute to his political opponent, saying: “I also feel the same sadness and anger – I respect the sentiments of the nation.”

He repeated official allegations that al-Qaeda was behind Ms Bhutto’s killing, and urged the media to “expose” pro-Taleban militant leaders who, he said, were orchestrating suicide attacks in Pakistan.

He said new evidence was coming to light but that expert advice was needed, and he thanked the British prime minister for accepting his request for assistance.

“This is a very significant investigation. All the confusion that has been created in the nation must be resolved,” Mr Musharraf said.

Of course, one wonders what investigators will have to work with, considering the fact that most forensic evidence has been (literally) washed down the drain.

Analyst Arif Rafiq is also skeptical:

Clearly, Musharraf is most moved by the deterioration of law and order, which he sees ultimately as an attack on his power. The murder of a two-time prime minister near the seat of the army, in his view, is now a peripheral matter. If it was truly primary, he would announce an independent commission, formed in concert with the opposition, to supervise the investigation.

Moreover, if he truly believes that Baitullah Mehsud is responsible for the murder of a former Pakistani prime minister, shouldn’t he have announced that the army would make a renewed, aggressive attempt to apprehend Mehsud, try him before a court of law, and–if convicted–execute him? Is not the murder of a former prime minister, in effect, an act of treason?

My brain seems to be stranded somewhere in 2007. So, for now, I’ll simply encourage everyone to check out this scathing op-ed by Tariq Ali on how the PPP is contributing to the suppression of democracy in Pakistan, and Dave’s subsequent commentary, also on deadly point. Hopefully I will soon be able to also contribute something with similar substance.

Update: via Spackerman, Barnett Rubin effing nails it:

Many, probably most or nearly all, Pakistanis don’t see the “War on Terror” as struggle of “moderates” against “extremists.” They see it as a slogan to legitimate the military’s authoritarian control. Through the classic psychological mechanism of reducing cognitive dissonance, it is only a short jump from believing that the threat of al-Qaida is being manipulated to strengthen authoritarian rule, to believing that the threat of al-Qaida is a hoax perpetrated to strengthen authoritarian rule. A similar mechanism of reducing cognitive dissonance has led many Americans to accept propaganda that the “anti-American” Saddam Hussein and the “anti-American” Islamic Republic of Iran” must be allied with the “anti-American” al-Qaida.

[…]

The Bush administration’s terrible simplification has not only harmed U.S. security interests; it has also done perhaps irreparable damage to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some readers protest when I lead with the implications of such events for U.S. foreign policy, as if I didn’t think it worthwhile to mention the effects on those directly concerned. Believe me, I understand that Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all those other countries out there have purposes other than playing a role in scripts drafted in Washington.

But I am an American writing for a primarily American audience. I don’t think that Pakistanis are looking to me to explain their country to them. I am trying to use my experience and expertise, such as it is, to convince my compatriots, our allies, and the international organizations to which we belong, to change their relationships with other countries. Sometimes I appear on the media here (the US) or speak to non-specialist audiences. They always ask me to explain the implications for them.

There is a connection, however, between the foreign policy interests of the U.S. and the direct effect on, in this case, Pakistan. That is because the script writers in Washington impose their own terrible simplifications on the people whose behavior they are trying to affect, without understanding who those people are and what they want, often with disastrous consequences.

The current situation in Pakistan is a case in point. The Bush administration has decided that in the “Muslim world” a battle is going on between pro-American “moderates” and anti-American “extremists.” According to them, the “Muslim world” has a two-party system organized around how Muslims feel about America. In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf is a “pro-American moderate.” Benazir Bhutto is a “pro-American moderate.” Therefore it is only logical (and in U.S. interests!) for the U.S. to realign Pakistan politics so that the “moderates” work together against the “extremists.”

This ignores a few problems. It is not just a random problem that the “pro-American moderate” institution headed by General Musharraf executed Benazir’s father and held her for years in solitary confinement. Despite Musharraf’s propagation of the PR slogan, “enlightened moderation,” the institution that he headed, and which put him in power, supported the Taliban unstintingly for many years and failed to deliver any results against al-Qaida when it would really have counted. This is the same institution that massacred hundreds of thousands of its own countrymen in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

[…]

The leaders of the Pakistan military, of which Musharraf is a typical example, do not see themselves primarily as “pro-American moderates” battling with “anti-American extremists.” They see themselves as responsible for building a powerful militarized state in Pakistan representing the heritage of Islamic empires in South and Central Asia against the threat from India and the selfish maneuvers of politicians (not necessarily in that order). In the course of doing so, they have enriched themselves and gained control of much of the economy and civilian administration. The military has always aspired to control the judiciary as well, and Musharraf has now restored to that institution the supine illegitimacy that it possessed under General Zia. This means of course that the use of institutional power for private gain by the military is legal (as the judiciary has no power over the military), while similar use of institutional power by civilians is “corruption.”

The military allies with the U.S. because that is the only way to get the weapons and money for their national security project and to prevent the U.S. from aligning with India. It has nothing to do with “moderation.” The “pro-American moderate” Pakistan military has used the “anti-American extremist” jihadis for its national security project.

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Three Days In Karachi

by matttbastard

stop.jpg

More images @ DeadpanThoughts (h/t Teeth Maestro @ Metroblogging Karachi)

Related: Also via Teeth Maestro (who’s none too impressed at the prospect of Mr 10% running the Pakistan People’s Party), Dr. Farrukh Malik provides a complete English transcript of Sunday’s PPP press conference, held at Naudero, Larkana.

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PPP Opts For “Dynasty-Based” Succession; Bilawal, Zardari To Lead Party

by matttbatard

Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, has been named as her successor to the Pakistan People’s Party leadership; Zardari subsequently appointed their 19 year old son, Bilawal, as party chairperson. According to Bloomberg, Zardai and Bilawal will run the party as “co-chairpersons”, with BBC News reporting that Bilawal “will take the role [of party leader] in a ceremonial capacity while he finishes his studies at Oxford University.”

More from BBC News:

Another senior party official, vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim, said Ms Bhutto had named Mr Zardari as her successor as party chairman.

But he said Mr Zardari had turned it down in favour of his son – a decision he said the party leadership had endorsed.

Mr Zardawi also announced that the couple’s children would now change their name to Bhutto.

Sitting between his father and Mr Fahim, Bilawal himself said his father would run the party while he was away at university.

But Mr Zardari blocked any further reporters’ questions to Bilawal, saying that although chairman, he was still of “tender age”.

Bloomberg also reports that, following Zardari’s announcement, “former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reversed his earlier decision to boycott the election, which is scheduled for Jan. 8 but may be delayed.” Zardari also said that Fahim will be the PPP candidate for Prime Minister (as TIME reported on Saturday). Neither Zardari nor Bilawal have registered as candidates for the election, thus are ineligible to run or be appointed to the position.

AFX reports that the dynastic handover wasn’t entirely free of controversy:

Bhutto’s 51-year-old sister Sanam, who was supported by many PPP members to take over, had refused to accept any responsibility in the party because of her family commitments in London, another of the officials said.

The appointment means the party leadership follows the bloodline for a third generation, some four decades after it was founded by Bilawal’s grandfather and former prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

As thousands of mourners outside beat their chests in grief before the meeting started, Zardari told them: ‘Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for Pakistan’s survival and democracy. We will continue Bhutto’s mission.’

‘The Pakistan People’s Party will remain intact as the leading political force in the country,’ he said.

The crowd chanted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf including ‘Curse on Musharraf, Musharraf is a killer!’ outside the house in the southern village of Naudero.

But many in the crowd who had massed on the third and final official day of mourning for the 54-year-old Bhutto began chanting for Sanam Bhutto to take the reins of the party, witnesses said.

Analysts urged caution.

‘Bilawal is just 19 years old, he needs to be groomed,’ political analyst and retired general Talat Masood said. ‘They should let him complete his education.’

He warned that by opting for a ‘dynasty-based’ succession, the party risked becoming factionalised.

Political commentator Najam Sethi said Zardari would ‘run the show to keep the place warm for his son Bilawal, just like Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi is doing for her young son Rahul in India.’

PPP vice president Makhdoom Amin Fahim and the party’s Punjab province president Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi will be on a so-called ‘advisory council’ for their young leader, party officials said.

“Ceremonial”, indeed; the following sober prescription from Tariq Ali, published this past Friday, seems even more pertinent today:

To be dependent on a person or a family may be necessary at certain times, but it is a structural weakness, not a strength for a political organisation. The People’s party needs to be refounded as a modern and democratic organisation, open to honest debate and discussion, defending social and human rights, uniting the many disparate groups and individuals in Pakistan desperate for any halfway decent alternative, and coming forward with concrete proposals to stabilise occupied and war-torn Afghanistan. This can and should be done. The Bhutto family should not be asked for any more sacrifices.

As Cernig observes:

The very fact that Bhutto’s will names her 19 year old son Bilawal as her “heir” as leader of the PPP and hands the co-chairmanship to her astonishigly corrupt husband speaks volumes about Bhutto’s own preference for oligarchy over democracy.

[…]

There’s no doubt in my mind that Bhutto’s PPP aren’t the best hope for Pakistan – they’re simply the most electable. In that, they hold something very much in common with America’s Democrats and Republicans, who are also enamoured of rich oligarchies.

Update: Oh yeah, I forgot: the Bush Admin doesn’t do Plan B’s.  “Stay the course ” is more than a pithy, soundbitten catchphrase.  It’s the bedrock dogma that the Neocon gospel is built upon.
*headdesk*

h/t Cernig.

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Benazir Bhutto’s Son To Be Named New PPP Leader: TIME

by matttbastard

TIME reports that Benazir Bhutto’s son will likely be named on Sunday as new Pakistan People’s Party leader:

A senior official of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) told TIME late Saturday that the slain former prime minister’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, will likely be named as her political heir and the new party leader on Sunday. PPP members are due to meet to discuss the party’s future and to give Bilawal, a student at Oxford, a chance to read his mother’s last will and testament.

A Pakistani television news channel also carried reports that Bilawal will be made the new leader, which the channel said accorded with Benazir Bhutto’s wishes. If confirmed, the teenager will become the third leader of the 40-year-old center-left party, one of Pakistan’s most powerful. Bilawal will follow his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who founded the PPP in 1967, led Pakistan as Prime Minister for four years in the mid 1970s and was hanged in 1979 by a military government, and Benazir, who took over from her father and was killed in a shooting and suicide bomb attack two days ago.

Bhutto’s wishes were apparently laid out in a secret will that she left in the possession of her controversial widower, Asif Zardari, (aka Mr Ten Percent), who has also been mentioned as a possible successor:

Asked whether he wanted to lead the party, [Zardari] didn’t dismiss it.

“Lets see…. It depends on the party and it depends on the will.”

However, according to Michael Hirsch of Newsweek,

Zardari is expected to act as a kind of regent to [Bilawal] until he comes of age, a close family friend who has read the will told NEWSWEEK on Saturday.

Further complicating matters:

Neither Bilawal nor Zardari, however, is expected to be named as the prime ministerial candidate of the PPP, the friend said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. That honor will go to a senior official, although it is not believed to be Amin Fahim, the vice chairman of the party who served as interim leader during Bhutto’s eight-year exile. [note: according to TIME’s source, Fahim is touted to be the PM candidate–tangled fuckin’ webs–mb]

As Hirsch also points out, Zardari is “widely blamed for the tangle of corruption that strangled and cut short Bhutto’s two terms in office.”

Arif Rafiq of Pakistan Policy Blog compiled a list on Friday of potential successors to Benazir Bhutto; at this point, your guess is as good as mine

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