Sir: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto confirms that despite 60 years of the myth of independence, Pakistan is still very far from democracy. Benazir Bhutto alone could not bring democracy to Pakistan, but she offered hope and she did speak in the rhetoric of democracy. But most of all she along with other Pakistani politicians offered an alternative to the choice Pakistanis face today: the choice between the military and the extremists.
There was little political infrastructure in the lands that became Pakistan especially compared with lands that became India prior to independence. The British emphasised security over political development in the strategically important north-west of British India.
With independence, Pakistan's insecurity complex worsened as it had its bigger neighbour to contend with. With Muhammad Ali Jinnah's early death and the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the lack of strong political roots in the country meant that there was an insufficient political class that could appeal to the whole country. This led to the ascendancy of first, the bureaucracy and then later the military. By 1958 the first coup the military had asserted its dominance over the bureaucracy and everything else in Pakistan.
Politicians still need to convince substantial minorities of the country that democracy is good for them. The reality is that not everyone wants democracy in Pakistan. Poor education and patronage means that many support army rule; sadly the extremists also have their followers.
The military will never relinquish its power voluntarily they have too much to lose. President Musharraf's sacking of the Supreme Court shows that he is less concerned about the rule of law than his own longevity. It is naive to believe that the military will bring democracy. We have been waiting for that for too long.
Sir: Benazir Bhutto's assassination is another tragic episode for Pakistan. It is tragic not because she was considered the answer to the country's prayers, but because she was merely the product of another corrupt cause that gave not just her people but the world a false hope.
Ms Bhutto's alleged commitment to the return of democracy in Pakistan was inconsistent with not just her own but her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's record on human rights while they enjoyed power. It is important to remember that Mr Bhutto played an instrumental role in introducing legislation that to this day discriminates against certain religious minorities, bowing to the demands of fanatical clerics that led to the blasphemy laws affecting particularly Christian and Ahmadiyya Muslim communities. Persecution of these groups intensified in the 1970s and killing sprees of their members ever since have mostly gone unpunished. The same occurred during Nawaz Sharif's tenure as Prime Minister.
Whether or not the elections go ahead, if the PPP or PML ever did return to power, there is little expectation they would implement democracy anyway.
It is a far cry indeed from Muhammad Ali Jinnah's vision of a modern, tolerant and progressive nation in which peace and prosperity could flourish. For as long as Pakistan remains in the grip of those committed to injustice and oppression, it will continue to be plagued by discord and misery, and the purpose for which it was founded will never be served.
Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi
Sir: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto may have been carried out by Islamic terrorists, but, as Bhutto said repeatedly before her death, the assassins almost certainly have the support and aid of retired and serving members of Pakistan's government, military and ISI military intelligence.
Hussain Haqqani, a former adviser to Bhutto, in his book Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, shows that throughout Pakistan's history its military and intelligence services have covertly funded and supported Islamic fundamentalist parties and armed terrorist groups in order to weaken secular parties such as Bhutto's PPP and maintain their own power.
They have sown mistrust between civilian political leaders in order to create political crises that give them an excuse to intervene and maintain their own vast budget at the expense of the mass of Pakistan's population, who continue to suffer in poverty (many of them PPP supporters).
The US government's mistaken belief that the military are a "force for moderation" in Pakistan has led them to fund and arm them through military aid. That aid may well have helped to fund the assassination . No action was taken by Musharraf against any officers named by Bhutto as suspected of involvement in the first suicide bombing attempt on her life in October.
The British government should end all political support for military involvement in Pakistan's government and do everything to persuade the US government to end military aid to Pakistan and replace it with aid to charities, human rights groups and civilian political leaders.
Braidwood, South Lanarkshire
Sir: The Pakistani community in the UK is stunned and saddened by the news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Pakistanis all over the world were looking forward to the democratic election on 8 January and the opportunities that this would bring for the people of that country. Such violent and extremist acts will plunge the country into further instability and uncertainty.
There are almost a million people of Pakistani backgrounds settled in the UK and what happens in Pakistan causes them great concern, as many have strong family ties there. The negative perception of Pakistan also has an impact on the social and economic development of this community. British Pakistanis are longing to see stability and certainty in their country of origin that will lead to prosperity for its 160 million people. Pakistan is a developing country that has immense potential to be one of the most successful economies in the world.
The British Pakistani community's thoughts are with the people of Pakistan and we pray that 2008 brings a better future for the country.
Dr Mohammed Ali
Chief Executive, QED-UKBradford, West Yorkshire
Brown plays tough with his party
Sir: In my student days, I used to referee students' football matches, and early on I would, on the slightest pretext, award one side an indirect free kick in their own half. This was simply to let both teams know that I was in charge.
In the absence of any pretext for extending the detention of terrorist suspects, I wonder if Gordon Brown is playing the same game of "I'm in charge"? I trust, as your front page suggests ("Labour revolts against Brown", 27 December), that he will find Parliament less forbearing than my fellow students were.
Colin V Smith
Pitfalls of a health 'common market'
Sir: Before we get too excited about the prospect of being able to avoid NHS waiting times in the UK by travelling abroad ("A common market for health", 20 December), we should recognise that this proposal marks a further step towards the commoditisation of healthcare. It follows the attempt to include healthcare in the General Services Directive, which was resisted by the European Parliament as the majority of members do not consider healthcare to be a general, for-profit service. Some of the measures likely to be put forward by the Commission are welcome, such as the centres of excellence for rare medical conditions, but there are significant concerns.
If member states are to manage the provision of healthcare, as the European Court of Justice says is their responsibility, we need to ensure people cannot choose to undergo non-essential procedures and reclaim their expenses afterwards. Similarly, the NHS must be able to recover its costs for procedures on people who arrive in the UK requesting the right to be treated in the hospital of their choice.
Another concern is that this "right" to access treatment abroad will mainly be exercised by the articulate and comfortably off, further reducing the universal nature of healthcare provision.
The ECJ has stated that medical need should form the basis of decision-making, not the patient's preference. We need to ensure our system is able to make such decisions quickly, but we need to beware of further liberalisation under the guise of patient choice.
Jean Lambert MEP
(Green, London)London W4
Blair's spiritual journey to Rome
Sir: What a miserable, carping letter from Leslie Rowe (24 December) about Tony Blair's conversion. To claim that Tony Blair was personally responsible for the deaths of 700,000 in Iraq, and for sending troops to Afghanistan to "fight an unwinnable war with inadequate kit" is an oversimplification of recent history to the point of absurdity. Tony Blair has come to the end of a long (and I am sure at times a painful) spiritual journey and I wish him well.
FRANK S RICKARDS
Oswaldkirk, North Yorkshire
Sir: It was ironic to see Ann Widdecombe attack her fellow convert Tony Blair by stating that some of the policies of his government were contrary to Catholic teaching. This is the same Ms Widdecombe who in 2002 called for the reintroduction of the death penalty, contrary to the current teaching of leading Catholic bishops.
Why wood stoves can be carbon-neutral for some of us
Sir: Quentin Craven argues that Donnachadh McCarthy "is the victim of a common misunderstanding" in considering wood-burning stoves to be carbon neutral (letter, 28 December). In fact, it is Mr Craven who is the greater victim: such stoves may indeed reasonably be classified as carbon neutral.
It is a matter of timescales. When we burn wood, we merely release back into the atmosphere carbon that was taken up by the growing tree. If each tree that is felled and burnt is replaced with a new tree (and this is admittedly a big if), then this process contributes no net increase to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels when averaged over decades.
For similar reasons, breathing is not regarded as contributing to our carbon footprint even though six billion humans breathe out enormous volumes of carbon dioxide because that carbon has its origins in the plants we eat, which are re-grown within a year.
In contrast, when we burn fossil fuels, we release back into the atmosphere carbon that was taken out over hundreds of millions of years. There is no replacement mechanism for this process on the timescales of human interest.
Dr Paul Williams
Department of Meteorology, University of Reading
Sir: Burning wood releases back the atmosphere CO2 that was removed from it only decades ago. Therefore it is theoretically possible to have a carbon-neutral situation if for every log burned another is grown somewhere in the world though preferably as near to the stove as possible.
However it has recently been shown that, in the case of biofuel grown as a replacement for petrol, there is not sufficient suitable land in the world for sustainable production of enough to service vehicle and other usage at its current level. This leaves no land for further cultivation of wood and I suspect that there would still not be enough land to produce wood so that most of us could use it, even if it were not in competition for space with other biofuels.
Therefore wood-burning in developed countries must remain a useful but minority option.
Ban paying for sex
Sir: So Mr Pellegrinetti (letter, 28 December) is worried about making sure women are also punished if they pay for sex, but even he must know why so many people object to men's buying sex and want it criminalised. If he has evidence that women in their thousands are sexually exploiting, beating and even murdering drug addicts and paying to rape slaves, then let him produce that evidence, or else abandon his convenient fantasies and face the truth.
The party's over
Sir: How right Lloyd Gash is (Letters, 18 December) that the fight against climate change needs governments to tell us how to behave. After the Second World War, Britain accepted a period of material restraint in order to recover economically. Such was the success that not many years later Harold Macmillan was able to tell the country: "You've never had it so good." Now, half a century on, we need political leaders of western governments to tell us that it's now time to stop "having it so good".
Sir: P Allen is wrong that no politician resigned over the illegal invasion of Iraq (letter, 26 December). Robin Cook resigned. And Lord Carrington resigned when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Both men, having thus demonstrated their integrity, considerably enhanced their political stature. Other politicians may care to learn that lesson. Perhaps even the entire, present Government may consider resignation; it's about the only option available to them if they want to avoid wipe-out at the next general election.
Sir: Some time ago, accompanied by my three young children, I attended a football league match where we witnessed a non-stop barrage of foul-mouthed abuse by a goalkeeper who was disappointed in his teammates' efforts (letter, 28 December). Having told my children that such language was not allowed, at half time I sought out the police inspector on duty at the ground. He accepted that such behaviour in a public place could lead to a conviction, but refused to do anything. A few high-profile arrests would do wonders for behaviour at football matches.
Sir: Remembering my childhood delight at visits to and from "the fat man with his sack", I can't share in Yasmin Alibhai Brown's condemnation of the customary gift-bringing Father Christmas, though I do accept her criticism of the "consumer greed" now associated with him. ("The ways we betray the spirit of the nativity", 17 December). As I recall, the Holy Family didn't reject the expensive gifts brought to the stable by the Three Wise Men.
Ripponden, West Yorkshire