Leading article: Benazir Bhutto's divisive legacy to Pakistan

One year on, most of the region's ingrained problems remain unsolved

Share
Related Topics

Pakistan's calendar is replete with difficult commemorations. But the first anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's death must be accounted among the most perilous of recent years. Always a divisive figure, Ms Bhutto still inspires sharply conflicting passions. With tens of thousands of people converging on the Bhutto family home today to pay their respects, elaborate security precautions will be tested to the full.

For all the despair of one year ago and the doom-laden forecasts for Pakistan that followed, the balance sheet has not been all negative. Ms Bhutto's death, in the midst of a keenly fought election campaign that her party had looked set to win, did not unleash the widespread violence that had been feared. The delayed election brought her People's Party to power.

The country also completed the transition to civilian rule, set in train by President Pervez Musharraf the previous year – even if it did not happen quite as he might have envisaged. Any suspicion that the former general's doffing of his uniform entailed no more than symbolic change was dispelled in August when Mr Musharraf resigned rather than face impeachment. The man who had reluctantly allied himself to Washington's anti-terrorism campaign after 9/11, at considerable risk to his authority at home, had paid a high price for his choice.

It is also worth noting that the government formed after last February's elections remains in power. After looking into the abyss of inter-communal warfare a year ago, Pakistan stepped back from the brink. A result has been a measure of welcome, and – it has to be said – unexpected, political stability in a country that has seen precious little of it down the years.

None of this, however, should obscure the potential for instability and violence that remains. That Ms Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, essentially won the presidency on the back of the prime ministership that would have been hers illustrates the continuing sway of the clan, and the Bhuttos in particular, in Pakistan. The People's Party was, and continues to be, Benazir's party. Prospects for a durable system of civilian party politics remain slim. Each new transition, expected or unexpected, can be a flashpoint.

Nor have Pakistan's new leaders been much more successful than Mr Musharraf in extending the rule of law into the country's more remote corners. The central conflict between the presidency and the judiciary has cooled since Mr Musharraf's departure – though it remains unresolved. And despite the trading of accusations over the bomb attacks in Mumbai, relations with India have generally improved.

But there is still evidence that Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, escapes political oversight. The human rights situation leaves much to be desired. And, despite periodic efforts by the Pakistani army to tackle lawlessness on the frontier with Afghanistan, these tribal areas remain largely out of control. Intermittent air assaults by US forces tend to exacerbate Islamabad's difficulties by exposing the limits of its reach.

Unless President Zardari and his government are able to control the whole territory of Pakistan, however, hopes of stability either internally or externally – and specifically in Afghanistan – are likely to be frustrated. The sad truth is that, one year on, no one has been able to revive Benazir Bhutto's combination of popular appeal and breadth of vision, however flawed. And without it, prospects for regional peace and stability must be dim.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'