|The other side of the Bhutto story
by Bashir Riaz – August 30, 2003
Islamabad’s military dictatorship discovered a new life for its campaign against the democratic leadership of Benazir Bhutto in a Swiss Magistrate’s finding. The Swiss Magistrate’s finding follows an investigation triggered by politically motivated allegations by Bhutto’s rivals made in 1996. The finding puts the cart before the horse. A crime has yet to be established in Pakistan. The issue of corrupt money laundered through Swiss banks can arise after a crime is proven in Pakistan. None has. Therefore the Magistrate’s finding, coming on his last day in office, is surprising. The allegations against Bhutto are regularly repeated in a slow drip poison effort to tarnish her image and eliminate her leadership.
Bhutto was tried on charges of influencing the award of a pre shipment inspection award to a Swiss company in the nineties. That sentence was set aside when dramatic audio taped evidence emerged proving the government influenced the judges in sentencing her. It is a maxim of the principle of double jeopardy that a person cannot be tried for the same offence twice. Bhutto is facing triple jeopardy. She is being retried in Pakistan on the same offence and, if the Swiss Magistrate has his way, a third time in Switzerland. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is in a worse situation. He faces triple jeopardy from behind prison walls. It’s unlikely that the Musharraf regime will free him thus denying him the right to freely defend himself. This smacks of foul play. Perhaps the celebrity status of the Bhutto name was hard to resist for an elected Swiss magistrate. Or, perhaps, the Magistrate was convinced by Bhutto’s opponents who can pervert justice.
This is evident from the presence of political exiles who fled after pressure to perjure justice. It was also proved in Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Consequently two judges were forced to retire in 2001. Successive governments in Islamabad reportedly spent millions of dollars in hiring lawyers, investigators, wire-pullers, agents, detectives and sending domestic teams to several countries across continents to dig up dirt on Bhutto. They failed to find a smoking gun. The lawyer managing the disputed Swiss accounts has exonerated Bhutto according to the report of the Magistrate. The attempt to tie it to her through the purchase of an expensive piece of jewelry fails to convince. There are affidavits proving otherwise.
According to the finding of the Swiss magistrate, a commission of two percent was paid by SGS to a Swiss lawyer for consultancy purposes. Two percent consultancy is recognised internationally as a commission. An amount under ten percent fails to fall into the international definition of “kickback” or “bribe”.
More importantly for the Pakistani public and its first elected woman prime minister, none of the disputed accounts are Bhutto’s. Bhutto’s lawyer disclosed after meeting Swiss authorities that they “had no information, which could be used against Mrs Bhutto personally and were not aware of any assets of Mrs Bhutto in Switzerland”.
Bhutto’s Party has called for the release of correspondence between Islamabad and its Swiss lawyers on meetings with Magistrate Devaud. They believe that this will expose the politically motivated campaign against her. The battle for justice is far from over. Islamabad’s anti democracy factions are busy declaring that this is “the last nail in Bhutto’s political career”.
Unfortunately for them, such predictions made earlier were proven wrong. The ability to frame Bhutto failed domestically for a clear reason. The special laws and special courts convinced the Pakistani public that the case against her was malicious and unable to stand the rigours of due process in ordinary courts.
Now Bhutto’s opponents hope that a “foreign finding” will alienate Bhutto supporters in Pakistan and abroad. Unfortunately for them, the Western media focus on the alleged fixing of a British government dossier to build a case for war against Iraq, and the missing weapons of mass destruction, tarnishes the image of Western infallibility for the Pakistani people.
That the Swiss finding comes hot on the heels of General Musharraf’s emergence as a key ally of the West raises eyebrows in Islamabad. Islamabad’s “foreign finding” against Bhutto reinforces the public view that a military dictator seeks to eliminate a political foe symbolising democracy for her people. The unjust treatment of the Islamic world’s first woman prime minister is demonstrated in holding her husband hostage for seven years. The suffering of Bhutto and Zardari reflect the sufferings of ordinary Pakistanis as poverty increases and the gap between the rich and the poor widen. Few believe that the courage and strength Bhutto and Zardari showed in prison and exile, facing hardships, could be withstood by those interested in enriching themselves.
That Bhutto was emerging as a voice of Muslim moderation on the international stage was unacceptable to the handful of military hard-liners controlling Pakistan’s security apparatus. If Bhutto was punished in the past by them for upholding democracy in Pakistan, today she is punished by them for upholding democracy in the Muslim world.
The attempts to pressurise a lady forced out of her country, banned from parliament, husband snatched through imprisonment, a mother sick with Alzheimer’s, is interesting. The Bhutto story is woven with the story of Pakistan and its attempt to end military rule and extremism from the body politic of the country.
One Musharraf supporter wrote gleefully of Bhutto’s lectures abroad being cancelled as a consequence of the Swiss finding. Such glee is an insight into how Bhutto torments her enemies by being what she is: a woman leader committed to the emancipation of her people. Bhutto’s enemies belong to the past. Her struggle for freedom, pluralism and tolerance as a system of government for the Pakistan and the Muslim world is bound to triumph. And if a free election is held in Pakistan, as last October’s elections showed, Bhutto will triumph once again to become Prime Minister for the third time.