Caught in a Whirlpool
by Khalid Akhtar
‘The NEWS’ 25 September 1997
There have been many ups and downs in Benazir Bhutto’s political life. But never before have her political status and credentials been questioned. Now both are at stake. She could end up as a big disappointment, and add another gloomy chapter to the already chequered history of the country.
The news that Benazir Bhutto has been maintaining a secret account with a Swiss bank has been a bomb-shell for her supporters. “It is not true,” was the spontaneous reaction of some of her followers. Others maintained how she could do a thing like that. But when Benazir Bhutto herself admitted that she may be having an account with a Swiss bank, these poor supporters of Bhuttoism had the shock of their lives.
There is hardly a political leader in the country whose person is not surrounded by fabulous stories of corruption. Unfortunately for Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, her spouse became synonymous with corruption, as each act of hanky-panky inevitably found its origin in his person.
Despite all this Benazir Bhutto had enjoyed a Ms Clean image. It has been widely believed, and rightly so, that Benazir Bhutto has paid heavily for Asif Zardari’s acts of omissions and commissions and his “I-don’t-care” demeanour. Why did she not check her “errant” husband? Did he outsmart her, or did she deliberately “delink” when it came to him for one reason or the other? Now when the chickens have come home to roost, she may have been terrified to realise that she has left for her opponents and rivals explosive material for use against her.
How and why did Benazir Bhutto feel the need of opening an account in a Swiss bank, and what were her compulsions for keeping this a secret? Who goaded her into committing a serious lapse? Benazir has the feeling, which of course is substantiated by some hard facts as well, that she has not been treated fairly by the powers that be in the country. Probably she never felt secure while in power. This may have been partly responsible for her Swiss bank account fiasco.
Benazir may be feeling that all is not lost yet, and if others could get away with their “horrendous” misdoings, she too could get away with her “unsavoury acts”. What crimes and irregularities have not been committed in our “Islamic” society? There have been so many scams in our country that one generally loses count of them.
The most outstanding of them are the Cooperative scam, the Mehran Bank scandal and Operation Midnight Jackal. Intriguingly, the suspects not only roam freely but occupy positions of prominence. All these scams did raise a lot of dust, and it appeared for a while that the hullabaloo might seal the fate of many. But this has not happened. The main characters of these scams seem to have left the worst behind and are now casting themselves in the role of “reformers”.
Benazir Bhutto can also hope that she can survive a scandalous situation she has created by “erring” fatally here and there. In a counter move the PPP has decided to follow afresh “corruption” cases against Nawaz Sharif and seek re-trial of ZAB hanging and re-investigation into Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s killing. All these are grey areas for the government, particularly the establishment, and the two may have to encounter severe embarrassment as Benazir hits out left and right in her fight for survival. In short the message from Benazir Bhutto is that she is not the only “sinner” and that why should she alone be punished.
However, the PML appears in no mood to make compromises, particularly when it has its “prey” helpless and defenceless. Nawaz Sharif and his colleagues are convinced that Benazir Bhutto has been hooked and it is time to settle the score with their adversary once and for all.
Admittedly, it will be very difficult for the government to prove in Swiss courts that the alleged millions stashed away by Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in Switzerland is illegal money. However, the way Senator Saifur Rehman has pursued the case there is a possibility that he may perform a miracle in Swiss courts as well.
It was a big surprise when the Senator revealed that he was spending his own money, which of course must be substantial, in proving the case against Benazir Bhutto. In this particular case he seems to have been possessed by a spirit of “jehad”. An aspiration of this kind usually makes the impossible possible. The fact that the Swiss authorities have frozen the Bhuttos’ accounts is testimony to the fact that the Swiss authorities have already been presented some incriminating evidence. Significantly, Nawaz Sharif has been talking since
long that his government would bring back the “billions” kept in foreign bank accounts. It appears that he had some information about these accounts before he assumed power.
Even if the Swiss courts clear Benazir Bhutto of all the charges, at home she faces the prospects of disqualification and imprisonment for not declaring her foreign accounts and assets while filing her nomination forms for the February elections with the Election Commission. Her party is hardly in a position to put up a spirited defence of its chairperson. The Party’s hierarchy has sensibly resisted the temptation to stage a power show, for which it has lost both the capacity and the will, to bail out its leader.
It will be the first case of its kind in Pakistani courts, with Benazir Bhutto facing charges no one in the country’s history has faced before. The Bhuttos have an unfavourable record in court cases, as in most cases the verdicts have gone against them. It will be unfair to dilate on what happens in the future.
However, one is certain that Benazir Bhutto will find it extremely hard to defend her position in court.
The PPP is seriously threatened with the prospects of losing its leadership for some time to come. The Party has always remained a one-man show. It will be an entirely new experience for the Party to function without the hereditary leadership at the top to guide it. Will the PPP become rudderless or take up the challenge and try to build itself on democratic lines? This is the most crucial question the outcome of which will have a decisive bearing on the Party, which stands close to extinction as well as re-birth. It will not be in the interest of democracy and the country if the PPP, undoubtedly a nation-wide party, sinks to a state of nothingness.
Then there are the limitations of the PML government, which could move only ‘thus far’ and not across the board in its accountability drive. And if it cannot make its ‘ehtesab campaign’ even handed, any action against Benazir Bhutto, no matter on how solid grounds it may rest, will degenerate into an act of victimization