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Monday, January 7, 2008

Bhutto was hated, too
The U.S. may have been her biggest fan
Matthew Fisher, National Post Published: Monday, January 07, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The deep sadness expressed by many Pakistanis after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27 was real. However, the grief and the spasms of violence that convulsed Pakistan after the former prime minister's death must be kept in perspective by those in the West who have lauded her.
As a Pakistani friend remarked last week, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Bhutto family was not how much Pakistanis loved them, but how much they hated them at the same time. This was seldom spoken of in the West, which always gave Benazir Bhutto a warm welcome in life and has eulogized her since her tragic death.
Schooled at Oxford and Harvard, Ms. Bhutto was so at ease in the West that many in Britain and the U.S. came to regard her as one of their own. The Bush White House embraced her and was keen for her and her Pakistan People's Party to win January parliamentary elections that have been pushed back into February because of her death.
With militant Islam flourishing in remote parts of Pakistan and now infiltrating all the major cities, and with one in three Pakistanis reportedly supporting the jihadi cause, the Bush White House had come to believe that Ms. Bhutto represented the last chance it had to turn Pakistan away from the extremists' brutal creed. She had made a tacit agreement to make common cause with the country's hamfisted generals against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is why they are the chief suspects in her murder.
Ms. Bhutto was hugely popular in Sindh, where her family still has a feudal empire and its members have long been regarded more as monarchs than mere aristocracy. Elsewhere, including Punjab -- which has more than half of the country's population-- she was respected but not necessarily loved for her charisma and her pluck.
But lost in the reverence accorded to Bhutto by Western leaders and media in recent days was the reality that tens of millions of Pakistanis regarded her as corrupt and that this opinion has probably not been changed much by her murder.
Many Pakistanis were profoundly uncomfortable with how comfortable Ms. Bhutto was becoming with the United States. There was also distaste for her high-flying, posh western life when she was away from Pakistan, and she was away a lot, including eight years of self-imposed exile that had only ended a couple of months ago.
Furthermore, a lot of Pakistanis have been perplexed about why, in her will, Ms. Bhutto handed the PPP over to her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, until their 19-year-old son, Bilawal, graduates from Oxford. This did not square with the past few years of Ms. Bhutto's life, when she tried to keep her husband out of public view and out of public life.
There was a reason why Zardari goes by the derisive sobriquet, Mr. 10 Per Cent. The almost universal view here is that he is a high-rolling thug who was always more of a hindrance than a help to his wife's political ambitions.
A visceral aversion to Ms. Bhutto's putative political heir, who had been implicated in multiple scandals involving money, blackmail and murder, was palpable in Islamabad last week. The mere mention of his name produced scowls of contempt and suggestions that if he ever gets near power again his nickname will be upgraded to Mr. 20 Per Cent. So there may not be the big sympathy vote payoff for the PPP in the election that pundits have predicted.
Curiously, Washington's last best chance may not be Ms. Bhutto's widower but someone who has not been nearly so chummy with the United States as she was. The unexpected electoral beneficiary of her death may be another former prime minister, Nawar Sharif.
Among the many differences between Mr. Sharif and Ms. Bhutto is that he enjoys cordial relations with religious moderates. This is not a small thing in what is an overwhelming Muslim country.
Given Pakistan's political earthquake and that the jihadis are still ascendant, it was hardly surprising that the U.S. has hurriedly dispatched emissaries to visit Mr. Sharif to see whether he might make peace with the military. It was a call that the U.S. might have made before it set its gaze so admiringly upon Benazir Bhutto.

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