Lethal assault on democracy

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Dec 29 2007, 03:54am hrs
The assassination of any political leader engaged in a campaign is a blow to democracy. This one is especially tragic. Benazir Bhutto, had enormous gifts, intelligence, education, the ability to lead and charisma. She bridged the traditional and the modern, and understood the west in general and the US in particular. She was someone who the US could actually work with to seek a way forward for Pakistan in light of the profound challenges posed by religious intolerance and political extremism, and Pakistans troubled relationships with of its immediate neighboursAfghanistan, India and Iran.

Her faults were also profound, as the well-documented [hyperlink] grand corruption cases brought against her and her husband attest. She did indeed treat her country like it was a family-owned business, with corrosive results. And yet, with all of her flaws, Benazir Bhutto was, for now, Pakistans best opportunity to take on both militancy and further reforms. The extremists knew this, and so she was prime target. As she herself said [hyperlink] after surviving an earlier assassination attempt aimed at her that killed 136 people:

What does the attack last night signify The attack was more an attack on the unity and integrity of the country than on any individual or any one political party. It was an attack on Pakistan itself. It was an attack on their political rights, on the political process and on democracy itself...

Her personal failings undermined, but did not eradicate, the principles she stood for within Pakistan, which have been characterised by Brookings scholar Stephen Cohen as progressive social and economic policies; accommodation with India; good relations with all of the major powers (including the US); gender empowerment; and a commitment to parliamentary democracy and a free press.

Heres what Cohen had to say [hyperlink] about Pakistans prospects for avoiding catastrophe:

Benazir Bhutto, now the darling of the Administration, has been muted in her comments on Musharrafs second coup; so far her arrangement with Musharraf still stands, and she hopes that between her friends in Washington and Musharrafs need to get a civilian figurehead for his government, that she will come to power. Her years in exile have made Benazir a realist: she believes that Pakistan cannot move overnight from dictatorship to democracy, and hopes that the election will enable her to get at least a share of power. Her supporters also understand that the threat to Pakistan from Islamists is mortal...

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