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The price of democracy in Pakistan

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan - posted Monday, 31 December 2007

The West wants to see democracy in Pakistan but the democratic process in Pakistan has had a troubled history.

After the elections in 1970 - the largest democratic election in the history of Pakistan - events led to the loss of then East Pakistan. The 1977 general election led to more military rule and the hanging of the most powerful civilian leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. And now, the world has seen another blow to Pakistan’s political process that may result in further disintegration.

On Thursday December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at Liaqat Bagh (Park) Rawalpindi. This is the same place where Liaqat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated on October 16, 1951. And Rawalpindi is same city where Benazir’s father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979.


Musharraf has been forced to open the way for a democratic political process in Pakistan by the Western powers. The two top political figures, Mr Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group) and Ms Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples Party were both allowed to return from exile to Pakistan. The Bush administration reportedly brokered a deal between President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto.

On her arrival Benazir Bhutto was attacked by a suicide bomb blast which left about 140 people dead. She was lucky to escape. Threats to kill Benazir Bhutto came from al-Qaida and the Taliban of Afghanistan, but Benazir immediately blamed Pakistan’s secret agencies for planning to eliminate her.

Meanwhile she continued to lead the election campaign for the Pakistan Peoples Party, holding election rallies and large gatherings. But luck was not with Benazir this time and she was shot dead, followed by a suicide bomb blast which left 20 other people dead after leaving a large public gathering. The angry reaction to Benazir’s murder around Pakistan left many killed and millions of dollars worth of public and private properties damaged by the violence.

Pakistan is a country strategically important to the United States in the on-going war against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Though President Pervez Musharraf has been co-operating with United States and Western powers in the war against terrorism he has not delivered completely on what they were expecting: instead the Taliban’s power is spreading further into northern Pakistan. Because of this the US wanted to kill two birds with one stone: step down Musharraf and, in the name of democracy, use Ms Benazir Bhutto - an internationally known figure from the most powerful political dynasty of Pakistan.

For Benazir it was a golden opportunity and perfect timing to return to Pakistan from her long-term self exile. Harvard-educated and highly intelligent, Benazir used a well calculated slogan in her campaign to eliminate radical and terrorist elements from Pakistan and to gain support from within and outside Pakistan.

Since her arrival in Pakistan the Western media remarkably portrayed Benazir as an example of the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, despite the fact she was sacked twice from the premiership in the past on the corruption charges.


Benazir first came to power in 1988 but her government was dismissed in 1990 following the charges of corruption. She was again re-elected in 1993 but was dismissed again in November 1996 amid various corruption charges. The Supreme Court of Pakistan found Benazir and her husband Asif Ali Zardari guilty of corruption and sentenced them to five years in prison. Later Asif was sentenced to jail and Benazir left the country and went into self-imposed exile.

Also, at the time Benazir was in power in 1990, the Taliban was supported and provided with arms by the United Sates through her administration, in order to steadily gain control of Afghanistan from the northern alliance.

The Bush administration played a key role in brokering a deal between President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. The civil rule of Benazir Bhutto - a strong political leader of a mainstream political party (Pakistan Peoples Party) - combined with that of President Musharraf - a strong ally of United States with the backing of the Pakistan army - might have served the US strategic interest well and provided support in the war against al-Qaida, the Taliban and other radical groups.

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About the Author

Syed Atiq ul Hassan, is senior journalist, writer, media analyst and foreign correspondent for foreign media agencies in Australia. His email is

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