Monday, December 20, 2010

"Bhutto": another pretense of "democracy"

This weekend I got a chance to watch Bhutto, a documentary on Pakistan's former Prime Minister and perhaps one of the world's most prominent female politicians (released earlier this year, but opened in Washington last Friday).

Well made (loved the graphics!). Intriguing. Compelling, indeed. But also, very misleading.

Savior?! In fact, as soon as the movie was over, a friend who watched it with me asked: "So, when is she going to be resurrected?" I couldn't agree with him more. The movie portrayed Benazir as nothing short of a messiah: she was the only hope for democracy in Pakistan.

Indeed, her achievements - especially given the circumstances - were more than just impressive. And yet, it is easy to forget the bigger picture and focus on the positive points, re-framing and often de-contextualizing them. Interestingly enough, for example, while the documentary goes into detail about the imprisonment of Bhutto's husband - Ali Zardari - and the corruption charges against him, there is not even a mention of the corruption cases involving her, personally. How convenient, even if those were just a "smear campaign"...?

The documentary features an impressive list of prominent individuals, ranging from Peter Galbraith, Condoleezza Rice, and Arianna Huffington, to Tariq Ali and even Pervez Musharraf himself. Yet, the story line seems to be mostly dominated by Mark Siegel, who identifies himself as Benazir's colleague (co-authored Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West with her) and friend. He also just happens to be among the producers of the documentary [makes one think...].

Yes, perhaps Bhutto's achievements - in the 1980s - can be seen as unparalleled. Maybe even unprecedented. However, she was not a saint, and the basis of her political power and legitimacy - from the early days of her prominence - was very questionable. Certainly, I'm not an expert on Pakistan, and yet, I would very much recommend going back to several pieces published by Tariq Ali in late 2007, where he explored the grounds of her "reconciliation" with then President Musharraf, and later, the "grotesque feudal charade" that followed her murder.

Now, the Bhutto "legacy for struggle" is transferred to her son Bilawal, who impatiently awaits his return home upon the completion of his studies at Oxford. Or, maybe not? In any case, he is the anointed leader-to-be of Bhuttos' Party (calling it "Pakistan People's Party" - i.e. PPP - is an overstatement), while his father Asif is "temporarily filling in" as President of the country. Sounds like a true democracy!

No doubt, very few major events in the region - particularly, following 9/11 - can happen without the approval (or, at least, knowledge) of the U.S. The fact that nominally "democratic" elections finally took place in 2008 and that Musharraf was made to resign indicates a major fallout between him and his former patrons. Thus, given what followed, "democracy" can be seen as more of a smokescreen, rather than reality in Pakistan. Wishful thinking, in best case. In that sense, the documentary is made by Americans for Americans (OK, perhaps some other "wishful Western" audiences, too).

Yet, despite the seemingly exaggerated progress in Afghanistan, the situation in bordering Pakistan is still very much a concern for NATO. As noted by the 2010 White House review of the Af-Pak strategy released last week:
"Although the global affiliates and allies of al-Qa’ida also threaten the U.S. homeland and interests, Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to be the operational base for the group that attacked us on 9/11."

The strategy needs strong action from Islamabad, but the notorious ISI doesn't seem to be helping; on the contrary, they stand accused of supporting the Taliban. Obviously, the governing coalition, and most importantly, the PPP, have not succeeded in making sufficient progress in that direction.

ENTER: Musharraf. Re-enter, rather. He announced the establishment of a new party in October this year, and apparently, is considering to return from exile and perhaps even running for the presidency. The ideology of the party? Errr... does it matter?

When asked by BBC what the party will be standing for, the response was: "Standing for myself." There, he also took a very appeasing line:
"A time has come in Pakistan when we need to introduce a new political culture, a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a democratic path, on a correct democratic path, not on an artificial, make-believe democratic path."

Funnily enough, in another interview just a couple of weeks later, he noted that "there is a sense of despondency spreading in Pakistan," and that a "dysfunctional" government and the threat of terrorism are causing a crisis in the country.When asked who would be the savior, he responded:
"The army can do it. [...] As long as the military exists and is strong, nothing will happen to Pakistan."

Later, he also appeared on Al Jazeera's Frost Over the World:

Obviously, nothing new.

So much for true democratization and commitment to change. All the "back channel" as well as public diplomacy efforts of NATO, and especially those of the U.S., do not seem to be yielding substantial results in terms of reducing security concerns, anyway. Is "Democracy" - Pakistan-style - the only viable answer, again?

[Back to my favorite Soviet joke...!]



  1. Don't you think it's not right when US try to implant their "democracy" in eastern region?

  2. well, i think my position - as expressed in this post, and many others on this blog - is pretty self-explanatory. i'm afraid you are trying to paint things plainly as black and white. but that's an oversimplification, and all i'm asking for is to CONSIDER the various layers involved.

  3. Black and white is a US problem ))
    I speak about applying double standards in US external policy. They think they can judge, but they don't speak about fooling their own people. I don't get it. Why Eastern nations should accept american way of democracy? Because Americans don't understand their peculiarities?

  4. oversimplification of things is a GLOBAL problem, not just American. as for promotion of "democracy", the very point of this post (and again - many others in this blog) was to point out that it serves certain interests, both American and other. Other countries don't HAVE to embrace it, but they have to balance their interests, right? more often than not it's much easier to do, when you choose the "stronger" side.
    HOWEVER, because more often than not these countries also don't have the circumstances/conditions necessary for such political changes, democracy not only doesn't take root, but it also backfires.
    the question for the "Eastern" countries (as you put it) however is HOW to bring about ACTUAL political change because things are bad at the moment, and how to make sure that whatever comes next is INDEED better...