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: Store Manager & Store Supervisor

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Case Liaison Officer / Administrator

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist based in Rochest...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific