Benazir’s music

…to Indian ears

She must have had the time to read the entire Harry Potter series during her years in exile. For she knows, at least, that the way to get past a otherwise ferocious watchdog is to lull it to sleep by playing music.

The harp Benazir Butto chose was CNN-IBN. Indian viewers who caught her interview with Karan Thapar would find her words music to their ears: Kashmir is a core issue yes, but moving forward on peace is important; winding up jihadi groups is in Pakistan’s interests, and India might even be given access to their leaders; and why, if Dawood Ibrahim was indeed in Karachi, she would ‘look into’ India’s request to hand him over, etc. Carefully hedged though her positions were, she was unmistakeably talking in a language that India wanted to hear. And as Thapar pointed out, it was very distinct from Nawaz Sharif’s declaration that all of Musharraf’s deals were invalid.

Bhutto, of course, is nothing if not a shrewd opportunist. She is likely to become prime minister in an act of political engineering orchestrated by, among others, the United States. Her party might well be the most popular, and elections might well be held in coming months, but they will lack legitimacy—both in the eyes of the Pakistani people, as well as in the international community. In such circumstances, it is vital for Bhutto to appear to be enlightened, moderate and above all peaceable towards India.

Her position is also consistent with public opinion in Pakistan. As a recent survey suggests, while Pakistani people still care a lot about Kashmir they care for their own political future a lot more. It remains to be seen whether her own stance on Kashmir and India, like that of the Pakistani people, will revert to age-old defaults if the political crisis gives way to relative stability.

While the Indian people might even believe in her change of heart, the security establishment is unlikely to be entirely persuaded. For it was during her first term that the ISI stoked terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir; and it was during her second term that the Taleban became a political force in Afghanistan. Clearly, she believed that terrorism and militancy was in Pakistan’s interests then. Her change of heart may even be real and driven by realism—for sponsoring terrorism is against Pakistan’s interests now—but is still not credible. Her actions after assuming power will be the real test of her U-turn.

4 thoughts on “Benazir’s music”

  1. Be wary of Benazir Bhutto, is all I can say. She is not to be trusted. She’s power hungry and ambitious, and this has not changed an iota while she was an exile. On the contrary, it has probably made her more crazy for power.

  2. RE: “For it was during her first term that the ISI stoked terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir; and it was during her second term that the Taleban became a political force in Afghanistan. Clearly, she believed that terrorism and militancy was in Pakistan’s interests then…”

    The fact that these things happened during Benazir Bhutto’s term does not prove much, given that one of her constant complaints (this one borne out by sources as diverse as the American journalist Seymour Hersh and Rajiv Gandhi, and India’s own intelligence reports) was that the ISI operated as a state within a state, and refused to be accountable to the civilian authorities. I do not think any “credit” can be given to the PPP government for “achievements” in Jammu & Kashmir or Afghanistan.

    Having said that, and while I disagree with you on the significance of the Bhutto government as far as the rise of the Taliban and terrorism in J&K are concerned, I share your “hold off on the celebrations” attitude: for the simple reason that personally, it makes no difference to me (and, I suspect, to India) whether x occurs because the civilian government wished it so, or simply because it was powerless to prevent x even if it so wished. There cannot be prizes for good intentions (although, certainly, this sort of thing MIGHT require a more delicate and difficult diplomatic dance from the Indian perspective).

  3. Umair,

    Yes, even the charitable interpretation of Bhutto’s record suggests ‘hold off the celebrations’. But I tend to think that Bhutto’s involvement, in her first terms, could be less innocent than she makes it out to be. Psychologically, she might have felt the need to be more bolder than the boys in order to strengthen her credentials. (Also, see B Raman’s response to Sherry Rehman).

    My own take: For India, “…who rules Pakistan is not as important as to how stable the balance of power is. From this perspective, there is little reason to be excited about the prospect of elections, democracy and an ex-serviceman as president of Pakistan.”

  4. I do not find anything persuasive about the change of heart. She is using the words carefully and is being diplomatic about even handed approach. For all that we know, she cannot do this on her own even if she wants to as the army and ISI will block every effort to do so. Dawood might even slip into ‘somewhere’ when she returns to power. Our interests do not exactly coincide with those of the Americans.

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