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Things Fall Apart

Benazir Bhutto recently blamed Pakistan’s intelligence services for the fractures emerging in her party’s elite. The former prime minister is highly concerned with cohesiveness of the PPP, making party members take loyalty oaths on the Qur’an. Though the intelligence services have previously and will continue to cause defections from her party, Bhutto alone bears responsibility for the PPP’s current internal challenges.

In late November, Masood Sharif Khattak–head of the intelligence bureau under Bhutto and PPP member for over 20 years–resigned from the party, possibly due to objections over Bhutto’s hardline stance against the insurgents in northwest Pakistan (he is a Pathan) and her dealings with Pervez Musharraf.

Earlier this month, Naseerullah Babar–Bhutto’s long-time national security adviser–rejected offers for a PPP ticket in the upcoming elections, citing his opposition to her talks with Pervez Musharraf.

Last week, Aitzaz Ahsan withdrew his nomination papers after Bhutto rejected his proposal that election candidates take an oath that they will earnestly work for the restoration of the pre-November 3rd judiciary when the new parliament convenes. She said that Ahsan’s proposal– a reasonable compromise that permitted both electoral participation and commitment to the pro-judiciary cause–was his “personal point of view and the PPP has nothing to do with it.” After Ahsan’s withdrawal, Bhutto stated that he must decide whether he’s with the PPP or the chief justice. On Friday, she also stated that the pre-November 3rd judiciary was not independent. As I’ve written earlier, Bhutto never had much fondness for Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues. In Dubai, prior to her return to Pakistan, Bhutto accused the court of a historic bias in favor of Punjabis. [Video]

This week, Naheed Khan–one of Bhutto’s closest friends and political allies–also withdrew her nomination papers, albeit for more personal reasons. Khan opposes Bhutto’s proximity to Husain Haqqani, the architect of her U.S. lobbying campaign, and offering of an election ticket to his current wife. Haqqani was previously married to Khan’s sister. While Haqqani is currently a professor at Boston University and a fellow at the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, there are reports Bhutto could offer him a Senate seat when one becomes available. Soap opera drama aside, Nahid Khan’s withdrawal is significant as she had previously been the medium by which people communicate to Bhutto. However, it should be noted that she remains as Bhutto’s political secretary.

What does this all mean? The PPP isn’t necessarily in a state of crisis, but it could be if Bhutto & Company fail to shape up. Rather than blaming the intelligence services for causing splits in her party, these particular developments are the product of Bhutto’s authoritarian hold over the PPP.

Bhutto needs to improve her capacity to channel differences of opinion and multiple dominant personalities within the party into a reasonable mean. Over the course of more than a decade, Bhutto has failed to demonstrate much of an ability to do so; recall how she pushed out her mother and late brother out of the party. The challenges the PPP faces today is the result of her overpersonalization of the party’s decision-making structure and an overaggressive lobbying campaign in the U.S.

Gone is the era in which one could make statements in Washington and not have them reach Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Bhutto’s statements in Washington regarding giving the IAEA access to A.Q. Khan, for example, made their way to Pakistan instantaneously. Farhatullah Babar, a senior PPP leader and Bhutto loyalist, was compelled to deny that Bhutto had made the comments attributed to her, despite the video recording. The discord between her discourse in the West and in Pakistan has been telling.

Rather than asking Aitzaz Ahsan whether he’s loyal to the PPP or Chief Justice Chaudhry, she should ask herself what is the People’s Party to begin with? Is she the chairperson of the People’s Party or, effectively, the Bhutto’s Party? And has she, in her quest for another premiership, pulled the party too far from its populist, anti-military rule roots?

Instead of pointing fingers elsewhere, now is the time for introspection for Bhutto, for by the time her son Bilawal finishes his studies at Oxford and learns a modicum of Urdu, Pakistan’s first mass political party might be in tatters.

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Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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