Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bhutto Love Fest: A Fly in the Ointment

Wow, just watching the news and hearing the presidential candidates fall all over themselves with praise for the slain former Pakistani leader one would get the impression she could have saved the world right after saving Pakistan. It is a tragic thing, terrible, no one deserves a fate such as that. My heart goes out to those who knew and loved her.

Her physical body had barely reached room temperature before the mud slinging began. Since I knew next to nothing about her other than she had been run out of the country and sent into exile on charges of massive corruption many, many years ago - I can't really offer anything one way or the other.

Ralph Peters in his New York Post column takes off the gloves early and often:

THE BHUTTO ASSASSINATION: NOT WHAT SHE SEEMED TO BE

By RALPH PETERS

December 28, 2007 -- FOR the next several days, you're going to read and hear a great deal of pious nonsense in the wake of the assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Her country's better off without her. She may serve Pakistan better after her death than she did in life.

We need have no sympathy with her Islamist assassin and the extremists behind him to recognize that Bhutto was corrupt, divisive, dishonest and utterly devoid of genuine concern for her country.

She was a splendid con, persuading otherwise cynical Western politicians and "hardheaded" journalists that she was not only a brave woman crusading in the Islamic wilderness, but also a thoroughbred democrat.

In fact, Bhutto was a frivolously wealthy feudal landlord amid bleak poverty. The scion of a thieving political dynasty, she was always more concerned with power than with the wellbeing of the average Pakistani. Her program remained one of old-school patronage, not increased productivity or social decency.

Educated in expensive Western schools, she permitted Pakistan's feeble education system to rot - opening the door to Islamists and their religious schools.

During her years as prime minister, Pakistan went backward, not forward. Her husband looted shamelessly and ended up fleeing the country, pursued by the courts. The Islamist threat - which she artfully played both ways - spread like cancer.

But she always knew how to work Westerners - unlike the hapless Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who sought the best for his tormented country but never knew how to package himself.

Jeez, was the devil herself? Peters needs to speak his mind and stop beating around the bush.

Doing a little more digging around looking for a counterpoint I found a piece by Mansoor Ijaz, someone who actually knew her.

His piece in the Christian Science Monitor was titled:
The Benazir Bhutto I knew

Mansoor, I suspected, would come to her defense and offer a balance to the biting commentary Ralph Peters dished up. I was wrong:

During her two terms in office as prime minister, Ms. Bhutto earned a reputation among many as an imperious, venal, and corrupt politician, bringing Pakistan to the brink of financial ruin on more than one occasion.

Ijaz continues: I knew Benazir well. I am often blamed by her supporters for having helped bring her government down in 1996 by exposing her hypocrisy and corruption in two Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces. We remained in touch over the years after she went into exile, even developing a begrudging respect for each other over time. She struck me as a terribly conflicted person who deep in her heart wanted to save Pakistan from its evils, but was unable to put her personal lifestyle choices aside in doing so.

He concludes on a hopeful note: Benazir Bhutto was a brave woman. She was the face of modernity that Pakistan needed to salvage its descent into a sea of Islamist darkness. She should be remembered as a guardian of Pakistan's identity as a modern Islamic nation. Her death need not be the beginning of Pakistan's end.

Obviously Benazir Bhutto was a complicated woman and like all people in positions of power, men and women, corruption is the sea they swim in. The question is did she leave her country better/safer than it was before she came to power? Most serious commentators say no. If Mansoor Ijaz is any kind of prophet maybe this time she will.

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