many of my american friends have listened patiently to my views on benazir’s dubious political legacy and lamented the absence of any other viable political leaders in pakistan. that’s a staggering statement. in a country of close to a 166 million people you would think that there would be more than just a couple of political figures. and there are. but it sure doesn’t look that way in the dali-esque world of american media conglomerates and their perfectly buffed and sadly vacuous news coverage. it makes for a thrilling media blitz to glorify benazir as the heroine of pakistani democracy and the only chance pakistan’s ever had to get out of its existential doldrums, but is that an accurate assessment? yes, benazir was from harvard and generally more palatable to an american audience and its elected government but even inside her pakistan people’s party (ppp) she was anything but democratic. having enjoyed the less than kosher title of “chairperson for life”, she made sure that after her death, the mantle would be conveniently passed on to her son.
but coming back to alternative leaders in pakistan.
of course there is nawaz sharif of the pakistan muslim league. he has been the democratically elected prime minister of pakistan twice, from 1990-93 and again from 1997-99. his second term ended rather brusquely when he was deposed by general musharraf in a military coup. he was thereafter exiled to saudi arabia and has now resurfaced to contest the upcoming elections in pakistan. the lowdown on nawaz is this: he is a punjabi industrialist and his group of companies, ittefaq industries, did not do too shabbily during his two terms. like benazir’s government there was blatant corruption, but there was also some flirting with islamic law. he tried to make the quran and sunnah the supreme law of the land. although the amendment was passed by the national assemply, it failed in the senate. nawaz was corrupt and given to self-serving talk of islam, but he was a businessman and many will say especially in lahore, that at least he left a tangible legacy. he made lahore beautiful, overhauled the lahore international airport and oversaw the construction of south asia’s longest highway, extending from lahore to islamabad.
then there is imran khan – cricket star, international playboy, oxford university graduate. from marrying jemima goldsmith to successfully establishing a state of the art cancer hospital and research center in pakistan, imran has done it all. in 1996, he founded a political party, pakistan tehreek-e-insaf or movement for justice. although imran is a celebrity and has had his own personal brush with islamic conservatism, the middle class can relate to him. he says it like it is. he talks sense. he supported the legal community’s fight for the return of the rule of law after musharraf declared a state of emergency and has refused to participate in the february 2008 elections due to the continued dismissal of the judiciary. but due to the fact that he is not a major landowner, industrialist, or military man, his political base is nominal. here is an interview with democracy now!’s amy goodman.
there are many seasoned politicians within the ranks of the ppp, for example makhdoom amin fahim, the party’s vice-chairman. a sindhi landlord with a bent for sufism and poetry, his father was one of the founders of the ppp, along with benazir’s father zulfiqar ali bhutto.
aitzaz ahsan also hails from the ppp. barrister-at-law, human rights activist and co-founder of the human rights commission of pakistan, former federal minister and senator, he is currently president of the pakistani supreme court bar association. aitzaz ahsan became a hero in the people’s movement for democracy and freedom which resisted musharraf’s state of emergency. he has been mostly under house arrest since 2007 for acting as deposed supreme court justice iftikhar chaudhry’s defence lawyer and demanding the restoration of the judiciary, after musharraf sacked 60 of the country’s senior most judges. interestingly enough after benazir returned to pakistan and took stock of this grassroots movement for democracy, she dealt with aitzaz ahsan’s popularity by sidelining him rather than truly joining in the fight.
and of course there is the jamaat-e-islami. although most pakistanis vote for centrist parties rather than those on the religious extreme, it has to be pointed out that jamaat-e-islami is one of the few political parties in pakistan which are truly democratically functional. at this time qazi hussain ahmad is the elected president. there is no chairman for life.