Benazir Bhutto is loving every minute of this, I am sure. The decision by the Pakistan government to restrain her from addressing a rally on Friday by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) unwittingly or wittingly makes her the uncrowned leader of the opposition in Pakistan.
Pakistan placed former premier Bhutto under house arrest on Friday, blocking her from a planned rally to protest President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency, according to this report by AFP.
The former prime minister who was willing to do a deal with Musharraf, even as other opposition leaders were against it, has very cynically positioned herself as the key political opposition to Musharraf. Her histrionics, devotedly covered by sections of the Western media, will certainly ensure that she now has a strong chance of being a winner if elections are called as promised in February 15.
With Nawaz Sharif in exile in Saudi Arabia, and other opposition leaders in jail or in hiding, this could have been a script written by Bhutto herself.
But will it help Pakistan get back to democracy and build sound democratic institutions? Or in the months ahead will Bhutto try to again do a deal with Musharraf, at the instance of the US who wants him at the helm at all costs.
For Bhutto the opportunity is now – to show that she is a stateswoman, and not a mere politician. Will she demand that the army pull back to the barracks after the February election ? Will she re-organize the army to ensure that it is more accountable to the people’s representatives ?
Bhutto has in the past complained that decisions about the country’s nuclear program were taken without her knowledge, and her government was in fact ousted after she came to know of it, and objected to it.
Will Bhutto change the system, or just move into it, and become part of it, if she is elected. This is a question many Pakistanis will ask of Bhutto and other contenders for the Prime Minister post. Will you change the system, that has made the military so powerful, or will you be comfortable once you have the top job as Prime Minister ?
Change may not come by an election alone. For a country that has seen the military and intelligence agencies control the government directly or indirectly for most of its history, change will only come if the army is made subservient to democratically elected leaders.