02 January 2008

no expert

I have been called out from the end-of-year/beginning-of-year haze to comment, in my capacity as 'expert' on the loss of Bhutto last week to assassination. I have been reading OpenDemocracy's authors on this, along with the usual press coverage; salon's various articles are helpful, including a summation of the South Asian press's reactions, and several comments on the rather sad and pathetic reactions from the US's presidential hopefuls on both sides turning this into something related to 9/11 (Guiliani, natch) or something related to the US's borders (er, it's really, oddly not completely always about you, people). Others have commented on the potential better than I could; see Juan Cole in Salon as well. Perhaps the most annoying element of the coverage is the 'when I met Benazir' trope--wasn't she lovely and oo! so powerful! so manipulative! Hitchens is the worst on this (to be fair: it's an obituary, but still.); Fred Halliday also goes a bit in this direction.

I am not a Pakistan expert. This is perhaps indicative of the divisions within South Asia since I became a scholar more than a decade ago--despite teaching the entire region in various contexts, my focus is largely India. I'm somewhat still in shock from the Bhutto assassination--not surprised, I suppose, but in shock, in the way that one knows a sick relative will die, but then when it happens it's still sudden. Ascertaining who killed her will be difficult; it was one thing when you could capture the assassin (Godse killing Gandhi) and figure it out--even then most of my students think that Gandhi was killed by a Muslim. (Except that it was a Hindu fundamentalist upset that Gandhi was meeting with Muslims in an attempt to bridge post-Partition communal divisions. But close!) Here we have a shooting/suicide bomb combo. Musharraf had warned her not to speak in Rawalpindi back in November because of security concerns; it may indeed have been people acting in what they felt was the military/Musharraf best interest, but I'm not sure it was truly in *his* best interest to have her assassinated.

Bhutto also kept her family away from Pakistan; in part because her husband is not liked--the corruption charges and money scandals surrounding her are usually about him--Hitchens' obit pointed me to this NYT article detailing some of that. She also anticipated being the focus of assassination attempts and wanted her family away from that. It's difficult enough to protect major world leaders from this sort of thing--Hilary's campaign headquarters was taken over by a crazy person not too long ago--but when you're addressing public rallies out on the streets in Pakistan, it becomes a bit trickier to claim any level of 'security' for that leader. I haven't met Bhutto, but I've been in crowds in South Asia.

The PPP is her family's party. We in the West have been led to believe it was/is the saviour of democracy for Pakistan. I don't know. Perhaps she/it would have been. But the corruption charges are real. The demagoguery that her obituary 'when I met Bhutto' writers talk about is equally real. If democracy means civil society with space for dialogue and debate, then Pakistan needs a free judiciary back--that looks unlikely. And some sort of balance in order to acknowledge a bit of the Islam-centred identity of the nation (along with its multiethnicity) without tipping into extremism would be lovely. The Dubai-raised, Oxford-educated 19 year old now heading the PPP may provide that. But not this year.

Much more to think about re: US interests in the region and the Euro-American fascination with playing with this end of the Silk road (most recently from the 19th-20th century British Great Game through the mujahideen to Musharraf). It is the crossroads of culture. It's too bad that's been a curse rather than a blessing for the last little while.

1 comment:

tenaciousmcd said...

Now was that so hard? Not an expert? After that post, I'm glad to have "called you out." (Hey, it's not that long ago that Pakistan and India weren't even different countries. You've absorbed more useful "non-expert" information in your pinkies than the NYT manages to communicate on a good day.)

Although I focused on the sensationalist "Who shot J.R." angle at FFB, I'm actually much more interested in the angle you raised: what happens now to the democracy movement in Pakistan? From a distance I'd been skeptical of Bhutto's bona fides too--the corruption charges seemed serious. But who can take her place? I know her party isn't the only one in the game, but her populist cred put her in a unique position to challenge Musharraf, corruption be damned. Can the politics of her death possibly help any other pro-dem parties, or only her own?

Also, did I detect an implied sympathy to the General in this post? There was a report after I posted at TPM (via McClatchy) that BB was going to meet the ay she died with US congressmen to reveal evidence of an ISI plot to steal the election. Does that seem credible? And does it change your calculation of PM's interests at all?