By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
One of our biggest tragedies as a nation and society is the worship of false gods, and for want of a better word, Divas.
While Benazir Bhutto died a tragic and untimely death and one was shocked in the manner of her departure, I’m afraid as a political leader, she was no saint or this great upholder of democracy as she’s being made out to be.
I don’t know the “private Benazir”. She may have been a wonderful person, a great friend, collegue and a wonderful mother. But this is a commentary on her public persona as a political leader and a Prime Minister.
Let’s not forget that she became PM in 1988, after Zia’s terrible dark years and really had the world at her feet. Granted that her hands were tied in some areas, especially foreign policy, but nothing stopped her from rebuilding the institutions wrecked by her father and by Zia. But like all bloodline heirs to political dynasties she lacked experience and maturity. Some say she was intellectually bright, went to Oxford became the head of their debating society etc.
But what about experience in governance. The answer is Zero. What about learning how to manage teams, budgets, understand serious policy and political challenges? The answer. Zero.
So what did she have going for her? Four things. The Bhutto name and the romance associated with it as well as the whiffs of elitism and near royalty. Perhaps a slightly above average intelligence. Thirdly being a woman and that too, a tragic victim. And finally the powerful emotions and the tragic circumstances of her father’s death. In a South Asian society, like Pakistan, all four worked in her favour
But competence, experience, track record, ability etc ? Zero!
And that is why Pakistan has suffered massive institutional decay as we kept giving machine guns to monkeys, the latest in line being Nawaz Sharif, who even his own father wouldn’t allow to come near any family business. Idiots rising to positions of public governance has lead to our current rot. And many more in line. Bilawal. Princess Tubelight Maryam Antoinette Safdar. Hamza. We already have Shahbaz. Fazlur Rahman. Achakzai. Asfandyar. What a tragedy!
And that is why bureaucrats like the notorious Salman Farooqi, and Rehman Malik, who created for Benazir and Zardari the web of off shore companies to transfer their looted wealth, and many other terribly corrupt people acquire such influence.
In fact Benazir wrote the first book on how to use bureaucrats and public sector institutions for personal corruption. Something Nawaz Sharif elevated to an art form and authored a doctoral thesis!
And that is how she and her husband, Asif Zardari, together, embarked on this massive loot, pillage and plunder from the get go. She set the standards of rot, corruption and criminality in governance that we see today. She consciously, knowingly and deliberately allowed the wholescale loot and plunder and the amassing of her wealth, overseas. She was part and parcel and in complete knowledge of all the corruption Mr.10% was upto.
How can we forget and or condone the hundreds of millions discovered stashed away in Switzerland and in properties across the UK and Europe etc?
How her front man, Jens Schlegelmilch, whom Ms. Bhutto described as the family’s attorney in Europe for more than 20 years, and as a close personal friend, managed her and her husband’s ill gotten, looted and plundered wealth. Pakistan’s wealth. The money that should have gone to feed starving children. Save lives. Create jobs. Build institutions. But it went into her personal accounts.
Let’s face it. She was a crook.
But the tragedy being that Pakistan’s rotten, corrupt and extremely flawed and compromised judicial system allowed them to get away scot free from this loot and plunder. Tragically and in a manner of speaking she’s paid the price for her actions. Now, Nature’s nemesis awaits Mr. Zardari.
Like her father, she had many personas. The public face of the Bhutto’s legacy. The private face of a corrupt monarc and the western darling face of the liberal woman leader of a conservative society. And again, like her father, she carried both the devil and the angel within her. And, usually as with her father, the Devil won.
During Zia’s years she really didn’t wage any struggle herself. Truly. Her party certainly did. Her people did. Her jiyalas did. Thousands suffered jail and lashes and imprisonment. But not her. She was never imprisoned in a jail in Pakistan, but incarcerated in comfortable house arrest till finally under a deal with Zia she left Pakistan in 1984 only to triumphantly return in 1988 as do all our wonderful democratic leaders.
Her battle with Zia was also very very personal. He had hanged her father and like her father she could be very unforgiving. This is really what drove her. But when in power, both times, she and her cronies and her husband raped and looted and plundered the country as all others have and as her husband, Asif Zardari did earlier and doing so now in the most absurd and shameless manner by appending the “Bhutto” name to Bilawal Zardari’s name, with the hope that this evil journey of loot and plunder will continue.
And then we question why does the Army step In?
Benazir ran with the hares and hunted with the hounds. She was at heart a feudal and an elitist. She blatantly and brazenly purveyed her father’s name and legacy to cling and grab on to power, and revelled in the role of both Diva and Victim!
Between her and Nawaz and the period from 1988 to 1999, they both had unchallenged opportunities to set Pakistan back on the road to progress.
Between these two, they had 11 years to fix the rot. Build institutions. Implement transparent policies and processes. Implement meritocracy in public service as a cardinal principle of promotion, placement and advancement. Curb corruption. Provide equitable opportunities for education, health, job opportunities ( not stuffing thousands of jiyalas into government jobs and destroying these institutions like PIA)
Both, Benazir and Nawaz, looted and plundered with shameless abandon and when the Men on Horseback rode in, they cried foul and instantly became victims and martyrs.
These are the hypocritical and corrupt people and their political cronies who have destroyed the institutions of Pakistan, including being active members of all military governments.
With sincere apologies to those who think highly of her as a political leader. Unfortunately I do not wear rose tinted glasses. One can’t be half pregnant or be half honest or be half a democrat. Like all South Asian so called democratic pretenders she used her family name to acquire and cling to power.
And made a mess of it and unfortunately her legacy is Asif Zardari and Bilawal Zardari.
But to her credit. She was a brave and determined woman!