Analysis: Mixed legacy for Bhutto

By KRISHNADEV CALAMUR, UPI International Security Editor  |  Dec. 28, 2007 at 12:47 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Benazir Bhutto embodied the best and worst of South Asian politics. She was a charismatic leader who inspired and gave hope to millions of her people, only to disappointment them with the difficult-to-shake stench of corruption; the first woman leader in a Muslim country, she was emblematic of the region's proclivity toward dynastic politics.

Bhutto was buried Friday, a day after she was killed following an attack, presumably by Islamists allied with al-Qaida, in the city of Rawalpindi, which serves as the headquarters of Pakistan's military. She is survived by her three children and her husband, Asif Zardari, popularly called "Mr. 10 percent" because of the commissions he allegedly received from government deals during her time in power.

Like the Kennedys in the United States or the Gandhis in India, Bhutto came from a proud political family with a history of tragic endings. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was a charismatic leader who was executed. Her younger brother, Shahnawaz, died in his apartment in France under mysterious circumstances in 1985. Her older brother, Murtuza, was shot dead by police in Pakistan in 1996.

Bhutto was elected prime minister in 1988 after the death of military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the man widely held responsible for the execution of her father. She brought in much hope. She was young, educated in the West -- Harvard and Oxford -- and could talk to the United States and Britain in their language. She was the daughter of a popular leader and brought Pakistan the first real chance of democracy since the generals took over in the 1950s. She served two terms -- 1988-90 and 1993-96 -- and was fired both times amid allegations of corruption.

In the fine tradition of parliamentary politics, Bhutto was an astute politician. Despite her personal brand of moderate Islam, she was not beyond dealing with Islamist political parties to suit her own end. She kept strong control over her own Pakistan's People's Party, jostling against her mother for the top job. Then there was the corruption, her reputation for which prompted British socialite Jemima Khan to describe Bhutto as "a kleptocrat in a Hermes headscarf."

But it is her last few years of self-imposed exile for which she will be most remembered. Bhutto lived in London and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, (she faced corruption charges at home) and tirelessly criticized the government of military ruler President Pervez Musharraf. She traveled extensively through the West, speaking at universities, think tanks and on television, championing democracy in Pakistan and speaking out against the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in her country. She vowed to return to Pakistan and fight for the restoration of democracy.

She did just that, but amid some disappointment that she had been negotiating with Musharraf over a power-sharing deal, which never materialized. Her return to Pakistan in October was tumultuous. A suicide bomber attacked her welcome-home convoy, killing 140 people. She had expected it, telling Musharraf prior to her arrival home the names of those she suspected.

Her return was marked by massive pro-Bhutto rallies and increased protests against Musharraf's rule and demands for his resignation. The president declared a state of emergency (now lifted), briefly placed Bhutto under house arrest and eventually quit his military post in order to hold on to his civilian one. Elections were scheduled for next month but might be postponed.

Bhutto campaigned fervently for the elections, traveling the length of the country, exhorting voters to back her and excoriating the militants of al-Qaida and the Taliban. She vowed to take them on and defeat them -- music to the ears of her allies in the West.

On Thursday, the militants had the last laugh.

Bhutto was 54.

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