Editors’ note: The death of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto occurred right before publication. As a result, some quotes from sources reflect opinions about how the country would change if Bhutto were to gain power and influence in the government. These statements were retained to also provide insight about the current state of Pakistan as a whole.
Lawyers, students, human-rights activists and politicians alike are taking to the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and other Pakistani cities to form mass impromptu gatherings; locations are spread to participants through secret text messages. Posters are held high in the air, reading adverse slogans such as “one coup per dictatorship” and “free the media.” Some may even cover their mouths with duct tape, further symbolizing the silencing of the Pakistani people. There is an electric current in the air – the familiar humming of rebellion. The crowd of a flash protest gathers for 20 minutes before they hurry to disperse before the police arrive, because lately, protesting against the government in Pakistan equals a high chance of arrest.
Throughout the past few months, the world has been watching Pakistan with growing apprehension. On Nov. 3, following weeks of suicide bombings and other attacks, President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, a governmental declaration that suspends normal functions of the government but can also be seen as a rationale to shelve civil liberties. Musharraf essentially threw out Pakistan�s constitution and immediately dismissed, then put under house arrest, eight Supreme Court judges opposed to the emergency. [pak1]
This was a move that Musharraf claims was done to curb extremism in the country, but many people viewed it as a plot to both keep his military title and put off the upcoming elections in January. Due, most likely, to pressure from the United States, an election date was announced for Jan. 8, but according to an online article from The New York Times, the Pakistani government recently postponed the elections to February. The Los Angeles Times reported a new election date is set to be revealed on Jan. 2 by the country’s Election Commission, comprised of Musharraf’s supporters. Although the occurrence of elections is now up in the air, Musharraf did decide to lift the state of emergency in mid-December, likely to the relief of many Pakistanis. However, this decision was met with tragedy. The death of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27 at a political rally adds to concern about the future of the country. Bhutto, who was likely to have been re-elected as Pakistan’s prime minister in the upcoming election, was fired at by a gunman and died from a skull fracture after the power of a suicide bomb caused her to hit the sunroof of a car, according to an online article from The New York Times. It was originally reported that Bhutto died from bullet wounds, but on Dec. 28, the day following Bhutto’s death, the Pakistani government claimed it was a skull fracture and not bullet wounds that killed Bhutto. Speculation, especially from Bhutto’s supporters, continues to surround whether Bhutto’s death was an assassination and whether Musharraf was involved. Bhutto’s death, in addition to the postponed election date and the country’s constant turmoil, has put the occurrence of elections into jeopardy.
Aisha Khan, a pre-dental sophomore at Lansing Community College, feels much concern over the future of the elections. “The whole call to emergency is just stopping the country from progress. The elections are coming in January and it’s not clear how the other parties are going to get organized. I’m not sure if the elections are going to be fair or not, because Musharraf did change the judicial system,” Khan said.
The declaration of emergency motivated many young Pakistanis to take part in protests against the emergency rule. One of these protestors is 21-year-old political science student Javaria. She attends Lahore University of Management Sciences, which has been in the news for organizing peaceful rallies, vigils and hunger strikes. Because she is a frequent protester, her full name has not been disclosed for safety reasons.
[javaria]Living the reality of the emergency day after day, Javaria knows what the atmosphere on the Pakistani streets feels like. “People are angry as their family members are picked up one by one for the ‘crime’ of practicing law,” Javaria said. “The mass arrests have led to fear, confusion and suspicion. The new trend of plain-clothes policemen makes every stranger a potential cop or secret service agent.”
As more protesters get thrown into jail, people take special precautions to avoid arrest. “Talking on the phone is not advised; people are using pen names to write,” Javaria said. People who are arrested are “charged with various crimes, including terrorism and treason,” Javaria said. On the whole, she feels the situation should be called off as soon as possible. “The emergency has taken away basic human rights such as freedom of speech, expression, assembly and protest. This is inconceivable in today’s world.”
How did something so “inconceivable” become a reality in Pakistan? Since its inception in 1947, which was followed by a violent partition from India, Pakistan has been struggling with an identity crisis of sorts. Founded as a Muslim nation, the international community tends to lump it in with Arab states from the Middle East. In truth, Pakistan probably has more ties to India, whether good or bad, than they have ever had to the Middle East.
As one of the few democratic Muslim nations, Integrative Studies in Social Science Professor Fayyaz Hussain does not think religion has played a big factor in electing past leaders. “Pakistani voters are very secular. A religious party has never won elections in Pakistan,” Hussain said.
However, a string of bad leadership has taken a toll on the society. “The social structure in Pakistan has been dissolving for the last 50 years; this is just another chapter in instability,” Hussain said.
One controversial leader in Pakistan’s turbulent history includes former president and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, who was one of the leaders of the current opposition before her death. Part of Benazir Bhutto’s popularity could be attributed to her father, who was famously executed on April 4, 1979 on charges that have been suspected to be politically motivated. Zulfiqar Bhutto, who founded the Pakistan People�s Party in 1967, is said to have coined the term ‘Islamic Socialism,’ which means secularism blended with Islam. However, Fayyaz said, that is a bit of an oxymoron, because “socialism negates all religions.”
One of the biggest supporters of Zufiqar Bhutto can be found in MSU parent Allah R. Shamoon. He feels the party’s message is the same as democracy in that it supports “freedom of speech, freedom of work and freedom of education.”
Having been a member of the party for about 23 years, he recalls the state of society before its existence. “There was a big gap between the poor and the rich before Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party. People who were down in a lower class, their children were not allowed to go to school,” he said.
Due in large part to the People’s Party, Shamoon also got a chance to achieve a higher stature in society. Although Shamoon eventually achieved a comfortable lifestyle while working as the district director of human services within the Pakistani state government, that did not come easily. Just like so many others, Shamoon said, “I struggled also. I drove a rickshaw.”[pak2]
However, Shamoon’s optimistic outlook surrounding opportunities for change do not translate to political parties, such as the People’s Party headed by Benazir Bhutto. “The message is still there, but it’s not implemented in the same way it was before,” Shamoon said.
After her death, the People’s Party is without a prominent leader. Bhutto was killed in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and initial reports stated the prime minister was assassinated. However, news reports in the days after her death and burial revealed she was not killed directly by the gunman or suicide bomber. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema, on behalf of the Pakistani government, reported information had been received that al-Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud was responsible for the attack, according to an online article from Reuters. Members of the People’s Party rejected this notion, claiming the al-Qaeda theory is not substantiated with evidence from the government.
Benazir Bhutto’s role in Pakistan’s governmental operations was often shaky and tedious. On Oct. 18, after eight years of self-imposed exile, Bhutto came back to Pakistan to a crowd of supporters and several death threats. Having been Prime Minister twice before, both of her terms were shrouded in corruption and money laundering charges. However, she was greeted with hundreds of thousands of well-wishers upon her return to Karachi.
Despite a large portrayal of support, her homecoming was not welcome by all. Most of these sentiments stemmed from Bhutto�s efforts to strike a power-sharing deal with Musharraf. “The fact that she claims to support democracy yet negotiated with a military leader is deplorable. She came back to Pakistan from self-imposed exile only after she had the guarantee that the Pakistani constitution would be altered to allow her a third term in power,” Javaria said.
After attempting to negotiate with Musharraf, Bhutto became his biggest and most vocal opposition after he declared the emergency, even planning a 170-mile march from Lahore to Islamabad to protest against him. However, not everyone supported the unsuccessful procession. “Benazir coming back probably made the situation worse. She created a lot of problems with that motorcade. I don’t want her back again. Her regimes haven’t been successful. We need a new face,” Khan said.
[khan]Mossadaq Chughtai, MSU parent and founder of the Pakistani American Leadership Center in Washington, concurs. “The past record of her performance has been very disappointing. If I was voting, I would not vote in her favor. But at the end of the day, the Pakistani people make the decision.”
In retrospect, Pakistan’s history is littered with corrupt politicians, and it is arguable Bhutto could be added to that list. “Every single Pakistani leader of Pakistan has been involved in some sort of corruption and money laundering. This is a sweeping statement, but it’s true,” Hussain said. “They say that Musharraf is the only one who hasn’t been involved in any money laundering, but who knows? We wouldn’t know while he’s still in power.”
The death of Bhutto may have terminated conflict or relationship between the prime minister and Musharraf, but the upcoming elections could very well be affected by outside influences. Bhutto’s death has eliminated the possibility of any U.S. arranged power-sharing deals between Musharraf and Bhutto, which were not favored by many citizens who believed Pakistan’s future should rest in the hands of the people. “If they truly support democracy, then they should allow elections to decide who will lead Pakistan… Outside influence in Pakistan’s elections needs to be curbed,” Javaria said.
The substantial amount of aid Pakistan receives annually from the U.S. further complicates Pakistan-U.S. relations. “Pakistan has received more than 8 billion dollars in aid from the U.S. in the last few years, so when you get that much money, you have to listen to the donor,” Hussain said.
However, much of this aid does not go to the people. “There are 168 million people in Pakistan and 80 percent of the budget goes to the military. Eighty-eight million dollars has gone from U.S. to Pakistan. Nothing has been accomplished. This money doesn’t go to the people – it goes to the military,” Shamoon said.
Javaria believes lessening aid could place a much-needed focus on social issues rather than military development. “Pakistan needs to develop socially, and people feel that military aid only increases the arms race and shifts the focus from human development,” Javaria said.
As for the upcoming elections, there is much concern over whether they will be fair. “The real question is, will opposition parties, including moderate parties, be kept from organizing? Then it will basically be a free election,” political science professor Brian Silver said. However, Chughtai disagreed. “I think once the elections are announced, there will be a time for everyone to organize.”
Electrical engineering Ph. D. student Khawar Khurshid is skeptical of the elections ever taking place. “I highly doubt the elections are going to happen. I’m against both persons [Musharraf and Bhutto]. But one thing is clear, Musharraf should leave. It’s about time.”
Khan is warily optimistic for what’s to come. “There’s hope for the future, but it’s just a very troubling time for Pakistan. There’s too much going on. There’s the international pressure and the war on terror. Our security is split in so many ways.”
Professor Hussain’s outlook is a slightly darkened when asked what a future with a Musharraf-Bhutto government would look like. “Whether that government will be stable and whether it will have any resistance, that is very doubtful.” Pakistan’s problems are more complex than this one situation, he said. “Nothing positive is going to happen even after elections. We are going to have the same poverty, same strikes, same problems.”
Despite stepping down from his military title and freeing more than five thousand protestors in late November, Musharraf’s popularity still continues to be on the decline. Musharraf still has not reinstated the original Supreme Court judges, nor has he relieved them of house arrest. While the future of the government is unsure, one thing is clear: the state of Musharraf’s political career rests on how the elections in January will pan out.
Another bad decision, another corrupt politician, another chapter in instability; this is Pakistan’s tumultuous history. It seems the people of Pakistan have faced disappointment after disappointment without any type of explosion or any type of reaction to their leaders’ dismal performances. Finally, the rhythms of rebellion are beating and, if they are loud enough, what some say is another chapter in instability could be the beginning of a new chapter of possibilities.
Katie Sulau and Jessica Sipperley contributed to this article.

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