Thursday, December 27, 2007

This is bad, very bad

The assassination of Benazir is probably one of the worst things that could have happened to Pakistan which now stands at the abyss. I have been watching the developments of the last few weeks with some optimism. It seemed clear that the army had realized that the jihadis had become a threat to their power. It was clear that the feudals, represented by the political parties, also saw the threat. The only rational response was a compromise between the army and the feudals with the army giving up some of their power and the mechanism for achieving the compromise was through elections. And, there was hope that in the process of compromise some of the power would devolve to the people of Pakistan. There was hope for some glimmers of democracy. Unlike many in the media I did not think the elections would be rigged - there was simply too much at stake. And given the lay of the land, it was clear that Benazir would win, if not an overwhelming majority, at least sufficient seats to form a reasonably stable government. Nawaz Sharif et al. were a sideshow. She was the linchpin. Without her it is not clear what is going to happen.

To understand what she meant in the Pakistani scheme it is important to realize that she was not just the leader of the most popular of the political parties - she was her father's daughter. And her father occupies an almost unique position in Pakistan's political history. Political parties in Pakistan represent what used to be, and still mostly is, the feudal class. Various scions of landowning families (sometimes turned industrialists) like the Sharifs hold power and wield it for their own narrow interests. Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto was an exception of sorts. He was also from the feudal families but he actually tried to break the power of the feudals. Ironically, this most undemocratic of individuals (he had a habit of throwing people who displeased him into prison) tried to bring some democracy to the country. He failed but he is remembered fondly by many in the Pakistani public for the attempt. Some of that fondness has always stuck to Benazir. And to give her her due, in spite of the corruption of her rule, during her time in office she did make some attempts at democratization. More important than anything she did she was a symbol that the masses of the people actually had a stake in the political process. That there was a hope that some day the people, not just the feudals and the army, would have a say in their own lives. Without her there is no one of national stature who can provide that hope.

The feudals and the army can make all the compromises they want. If the masses of people finally lose all hope - that way lies Chaos. No people deserve that. This is a dark day for Pakistan, and those who care for her.