Beware of Benazir Bhutto

When you look past the four walls of our country and stare long and hard at the rest of the world, sometimes it is hard not to ask yourself, ‘What is the true price of democracy?’ Is it about spending billions of dollars funding a war to strengthen a democratic government? Or is it about blowing yourself into little pieces in a large crowd, hurting as many people as possible, just to make a point?
The best bet would be to ask Benazir Bhutto. The two-time former Prime Minister of Pakistan returned to her country this week after an eight-year exile. Hours after her return, there were two large bomb blasts within 15 feet of her motorcade. She was unhurt, but about 135 people died and 450 more were injured.
When I first heard about the attacks, I was quite shocked. Amid thousands of supporters awaiting her arrival at the airport, I imagined that Bhutto’s return was exactly what Pakistan needed in order to finally take a step toward building a strong democracy. After all, at first glance, one would hardly see any reason to oppose a woman who, at the age of 35, became the youngest person and the first female to rule a modern Muslim nation. However, taking a look into her troubled past and keeping an eye on her recent deal with General Pervez Musharraf, her whole return full of promises seems like a smoke screen.
Bhutto led Pakistan twice, first in 1988 and then again in 1993. However, both times Bhutto’s government was ‘dissolved’ due to charges of misuse and corruption. While in office, the Taliban was gaining power in neighboring Afghanistan. Bhutto supported them both politically and financially, as she believed in their ability to stabilize Afghanistan. Her husband spent eight years in prison for corruption charges as well, and her father had been hanged in 1979 for allegedly conspiring to kill a political rival. The corruption charges against her in Pakistan have been pending for years, but Bhutto managed to strike a deal with General Musharraf to ensure her return.
One would think that Bhutto, who has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and studied at Oxford for several years, could be exactly the kind of leader that Pakistan needs at this time. Musharraf came into power many years ago as a military dictator. He was an avid supporter of the United States and the War on Terror until recently, when it came to light that many terrorist activities were being supported in the country and by his own government.
Earlier, the general had changed the laws saying that any prime minister can only serve two terms, thereby making it impossible for Bhutto to run again. However, amid recent criticism of his government and his falling approval ratings, Musharraf won the election to be Pakistan’s next president and agreed to give up his uniform in order to take office. He then granted Bhutto amnesty against all charges, allowing her safe return to Pakistan. Many say that in order to gain the favor of the people once again, he struck a deal with Bhutto. She plans to run for prime minister in the January Parliamentary elections.
Bhutto promises a stable return to democracy for the people, but at this point almost everyone seems wary of her promises. The political strife in Pakistan isn’t going to go away overnight, and even though the terrorist attacks were absolutely horrifying, their message seems to be clear. A divided country that houses terrorists and is also in possession of nuclear weapons cannot be stabilized without an attempt to root out the problems that have plagued the country’s politics for decades. Problems like corruption, fraud and terrorism cannot simply be overcome by Bhutto’s much-criticized liberal, pro-Wester ideals.
So the question becomes, again, what is the price of democracy? How many people will have to die in various countries around the world as they struggle for basic human rights and freedom? This is definitely something we take for granted in this country. We are able to walk on the streets any time of day without constantly fearing for our lives, we are allowed to vote and have a say in our political process, we can practice any religion, we are able to earn money, buy food and educate ourselves. It may be hard to imagine, but a large number of countries around the world don’t have the same liberties as we do, yet we aren’t even thankful for our rights. People halfway across the world are giving their lives every single day to have what we have. Even though the events in Pakistan and other countries may not directly affect us, we have to walk away learning something. We have to raise our voices and fight for what we believe in, not because it’s the right thing to do but because our country has come a long way in assuring us the right to even do so.
Priya Arora is a second-year psychology and social behavior major. She can be reached at parora@uci.edu.