Democratic Pakistan limps on without Bhutto: analysts
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistan returned to civilian rule shortly after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto a year ago, but the nascent democracy is now caught in a web of crises that is threatening its future, analysts say.
The government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, came to power with significant public support, but many say he has not lived up to the promises made by their slain leader before her death in a suicide attack.
“He seems to have lost some of the popular goodwill because the government appears to be ineffective in addressing the problems that have hit the common people most,” political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.
Pakistan’s troubles have worsened in the past 12 months with more than 50 suicide attacks killing civilians, severe economic woes for the government, and high food prices and regular power shortages hitting ordinary families hard.
At the same time, militancy in the lawless tribal areas and simmering tensions with India have been accompanied by political infighting between the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its former coalition partner.
A recent poll carried out by a US-based research group, the International Republican Institute (IRI), revealed that nearly nine out of 10 Pakistanis feel their country is headed in the wrong direction.
Zardari himself earned only a 19 percent approval rating, the survey showed.
“The forces of domestic terrorism, extremism and religious militancy continue to challenge the authority of the state,” Riffat Hussain, head of the strategic studies department at Quid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, told AFP.
“The new government has failed to bring them under control in any perceptible way… people seem disenchanted with Zardari’s approach to governance, which is marked by benign authoritarianism and lack of vision.”
Askari agreed, saying that Zardari was poorly prepared to take on the presidency three months ago, after military ruler Pervez Musharraf stepped down under threat of impeachment, and has since lost credibility.
“His personalised management style and greater emphasis on loyalty rather than merit have reduced the chances that democratic processes will become more institutionalised,” Askari said.
The new PPP leadership started the year well by cruising to victory in February general elections — which were postponed by six weeks in the wake of Bhutto’s slaying at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.
The PPP formed an alliance with the country’s second-largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N party headed by former premier Nawaz Sharif.
But the PML-N quit government in August in protest at the PPP’s refusal to reinstate judges sacked by Musharraf under emergency rule last year and reverse constitutional changes made by the army general.
Last week, Sharif attacked the government, saying in an interview with Geo television: “The country is beginning to present the look of a failed state.”
So far the fallback position of Zardari and his team has been to blame Musharraf’s nine years at the helm for the country’s economic, political and security woes.
But Askari said: “As time passes by, the government will not be able to put the blame of the current problems on the faulty policies of the Musharraf government.
“The people will assign greater blame to the present government if they cannot break out of the present governance and political management impasse.”
For Hussain, Zardari so far would earn a grade of “C plus at worst and a B at best.”
Political analyst Rasul Baksh Rais went even further, saying Bhutto would have successfully shepherded Pakistan through its current malaise.
“Many of the problems would have been settled if she was alive,” Rais, who teaches political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences told AFP.
“She was the most articulate and modern face of Pakistan. Her rapport with international leaders and her standing and her charisma were so great that no one could ignore what she did or what she said.
“Pakistan is missing Benazir Bhutto badly today.”