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Sorry, But Benazir Bhutto Was No Saint

by gobacktotexas Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 06:45:40 AM EST

It is truly tragic that the first female Muslim Prime Minister has been killed, but we shouldn't look at her legacy with rose-tinted glasses.  If Bhutto could be considered a democrat, she was a corrupt one.    

Diary rescue by Migeru

While Benazir Bhutto led Pakistan, she and her husband illegaly lined their pockets:

In 1995, a leading French military contractor, Dassault Aviation, agreed to pay Zardari [Bhutto's husband] and a Pakistani partner a $200 million commission for a $4 billion jet fighter deal that fell apart only when Bhutto's government was dismissed. In another deal, a leading Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan paid millions of dollars between 1994 and 1996 to offshore companies controlled by Zardari and Bhutto's widowed mother, Nusrat Bhutto.

In the largest single payment investigators have discovered, a gold bullion dealer in the Middle East was shown to have deposited at least $10 million into one of Zardari's accounts after the Bhutto government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan's jewelry industry. The money was deposited into a Citibank account in the United Arab Emirates sheikdom of Dubai, one of several Citibank accounts used by Zardari.


A worldwide search for properties secretly bought by the Bhutto family is still in its early stages. But the inquiry has so far found that Zardari went on a shopping spree in the mid-1990s, purchasing among other things a $4 million, 355-acre estate south of London. Over eight months in 1994 and 1995, he used a Swiss bank account and an American Express card to buy jewelry worth $660,000 -- including $246,000 at Cartier Inc. and Bulgari Corp. in Beverly Hills, Calif., in barely a month.

In America we've grown increasingly accustomed to high-level corruption as of late, but the Bhutto's corruption was of an entirely different degree:

The Swiss Government has handed over documents to the government of Pakistan which relate to corruption allegations against Pakistan's opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari.

The documents, which have been examined by the BBC, include a formal charge of money laundering and an indictment by the Swiss authorities against Mr Zardari.

A Swiss magistrate says he has evidence that Asif Zardari received commissions from two Geneva-based companies which had contracts with Pakistan's Government.

Mr Zadari is also charged with trying to launder the money - an offence under Swiss law.


The documents also allege that money appeared to be accessible to Benazir Bhutto and that in August 1997 she used some of it to purchase a diamond necklace for over $175,000.

Arianna Huffington recently recounted a conversation she had with Bhutto in which Bhutto boasted about her love for her husband:

[She told me] how much she loved her husband. She was trying to convince me that even though it was a marriage arranged by her mother, she had fallen in love with him, as if she had spotted him herself across a crowded room.

Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelery purchases, or the swank property transfers helped to kindle this affection?

When a former leader of any country is assassinated, it is tragic, but we need to keep things in perspective.  Benazir Bhutto was corrupt as they come, which is not good for Democracy.  She did little to strengthen democracy in Pakistan with her graft and likely contributed to its current weakness.  And had Bhutto been successful in her quest to lead Pakistan again, she would have once again brought her corrupt style of leadership, putting her own interests above those of the Pakistani people.    

Cross-posted on the DailyKos.
by gobacktotexas (dickcheneyfanclub@gmail.com) on Sat Dec 29th, 2007 at 10:05:50 AM EST
Very few politicians are saints. Benazir Bhutto was better than average, in the terms of Pakistan's political culture. The other alternative leaders are very likely to be worse than she would have been.
by Gary J on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 02:20:55 AM EST
Yes, that's the problem really. The entire society is a series of interlocking corruptions.

As Tariq Ali explains here;-

Corruption envelops Pakistan. The poor bear the burden, but the middle classes are also affected. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, small businessmen, traders are crippled by a system in which patronage and bribery are trump cards. Some escape - there are 20,000 Pakistani doctors working in the United States alone - but others come to terms with the system, accept compromises that make them deeply cynical about themselves and everyone else.

Bhutto was corrupt, but by the standards of her society it was normal, banal even. Hardly Saudi standards.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 30th, 2007 at 10:58:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, it is indeed a corrupt place, but in fact Bhutto (and her husband) were not at all "better than average". Her husband was known as Mr 10%, and this because whenever investors wanted to do something in PK when she was PM, he required a 10% cut for the project to gain the requisite approvals.

I think you are correct to cite Ali on this, though a more complete read might be found here imho.

We must be aware of a certain desire on the part of the foreign policy and intelligence communities of various Western countries to play up Bhutto and, now, her husband (Mr 10%) and son, and also aware of the mostly uncritical posture western press organs take with respect to whatever the aforementioned communities put out into the public domain.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Mon Dec 31st, 2007 at 02:53:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bhutto would have been good for business.

I don't think anyone here believed she was St Benazir. But - corruption aside - she might also have been good for stability.

Stability != democracy, clearly, but if the alternative is civil war any advance from that is a good thing.

It's going to be interesting to see how her son fares.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 01:09:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the Western media had a fascination with Bhutto because she was an attractive woman who was nominally democratic and the leader of a Muslim country.  So it portrayed her in a positive light, which in light of her record, is undeserved.   I have seen no indication that she was a force for stability in Pakistan.  I think you could make an equally convincing argument that Musharaff is a force for stabilit and thus should remain in power...
by gobacktotexas (dickcheneyfanclub@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 08:42:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...because she was an attractive woman who was nominally democratic and the leader of a Muslim country.

With especial stress on the 'attractive woman' bit. Let us allow ourselves a simple thought experiment: if it were Sharif who had been assassinated, would it have attracted anywhere near as much attention outside of specialist circles? I doubt even a successful assassination of Musharaff himself would get the same amount of mainstream media and blogosphere attention as this has.

She was a corrupt high-handed autocrat and in a sense got what she deserved. (In the sense that all such politicians, i.e. most high-level politicians, deserve exactly the same end ... but Fate does not often oblige the needs of Justice.) Would anyone here mourn if Thatcher had been blown up? (Perhaps if she had looked like the blonde lead singer of Abba rather than someone's dour old grandmother ...)

by wing26 on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 11:58:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you both for the excellent source.  I look forward to Mr. Ali's book.    That is tremendously informative.    
by gobacktotexas (dickcheneyfanclub@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 09:06:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i think yo have toc ompare the corruption level fo the family with other families of the region... and Buttho is very far away from say Sauid Royal family, Emirates second cousing in law of the third sister of the brother of the cousing of one of the princes.

Evenc omapring her with the average israeli politican or Egyptian or even with some member of the Jordan oligarchy (probably the less corrupt arround) she would not be that far.

another issue is wehther she would have gotten stability  deal-done in Pakistan.. i doubt it.. but it was a possibility.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 03:42:41 PM EST
Reading this article from the NYT, I got the impression that Bhutto and her husband may have had a hand in knocking off some of her family members so she could come to power:

[...]Murtaza Bhutto, for his part, had fallen out of favor with his sister, apparently over the question of who would inherit their father's political legacy, and in 1996 he was gunned down in the port city of Karachi; his widow, Ghinva, blamed Mr. Zardari[...]

Murtaza Bhutto is buried in the family mausoleum, in a village less than five miles from the house, but not next to his father, who lies in the middle of the shrine, on a slightly elevated platform. The coffins of Murtaza, and of his brother, Shahnawaz, who died mysteriously of poisoning in a family apartment in France in 1985, lie in one corner of the mausoleum. Ms. Bhutto lies next to her father. Their coffins are blanketed with rose petals.

A political party which is based around one family, whose members rip-off the country and possibily murder each other while jockeying for power...that is pretty undemocratic and insidious, and I can't see it being a force for any good in a country.  

by gobacktotexas (dickcheneyfanclub@gmail.com) on Tue Jan 1st, 2008 at 08:38:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tariq Ali seems, in the LRB article linked above by redstar, to hint that Benazir was either involved in the murder of her own brother Murtaza, or complicit in the cover-up, possibly to protect her husband. Her niece, Fatima Bhutto, despite her latest understandable public statements, was a fierce critic. She asks in a recent article of hers reviewing her father's murder:

...how many men and women were murdered in extra-judicial killings in Karachi from 1993-1996? Thousands. Check the records.

The records seem to agree with Fatima Bhutto...:

...[In 1996, Amnesty International's] delegation was shocked at the complacency with which government ministers and officials acknowledged that torture is a fact of life in Pakistan. In its submission to the government, the delegation documented instances of torture, rape and deaths in police custody across Pakistan. The delegation also raised concerns about extra-judicial executions which continue throughout the country.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake
by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:14:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelery purchases, or the swank property transfers helped to kindle this affection?

Well, to be fair, there's nothing unique about that if it was the case.  There are more than a few women you could say the same thing about in western countries.  (Two words:  Paris Hilton.  And you don't really think Posh Spice likes her idiot husband, do you?)  It's just that we tend to put them on television on this side of the globe rather than in public office.

Not a saint by any stretch, I'm sure, but a least an apparently sane politician in a region of lunatics.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 07:40:08 AM EST
region of lunatics
by FarEasterner on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:27:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I meant to say "region run by lunatics," but I wasn't really thinking.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 09:03:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, this diary seems to be spillover from DailyKos where lately around 20 diaries a day on Bhutto of different quality appeared.

Pakistan is not US as Russia is not US and Africa is not US, don't know why Americans always need to compare their country with others especially when they have little knowledge about them.

Ms Bhutto was really failure as administrator no doubts, but corruption is the last thing that comes to my mind when I draw my judgement about her 2 PM terms.

After her tragic death I read a lot on her contribution to Pakistan's history and can agree with William Dalrymple, celebrated author of books on subcontinent in his opinion published in special Stop Press edition of Outlook magazine - he said she unlike high-cultured Indira Gandhi loved to read about kings and queens of the past and romances, at least he did not see any serious books in her Karachi home. That's why she failed to deliver good governance and was a mere pawn in the hands of military-intelligence establishment.

by FarEasterner on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 08:42:16 AM EST
Ms Bhutto was really failure as administrator no doubts, but corruption is the last thing that comes to my mind when I draw my judgement about her 2 PM terms.

Your other good observations notwithstanding, I find this statement odd. Pakistan is indeed not a particularly transparent place, with corruption at every level (not unlike India, I imagine, not having ever been to there) and declarations of corruption re: any politician are almost to be expected, indeed Sharif was deposed via similar accusations. Recall this is the land of BCCI, after all.

This being said, Bhutto's level of curruption, in particular that of her husband, was of dizzying proportions; accusations of and investigations for corruption came not just from the usual quarters in PK (ie her opponents), but also in Switzerland (where she and her husband were convicted of money laundering), the UK, France, Spain, and I think Italy and Poland as well. Both of her governments were dissolved under corruption clouds.

She was definitely in a different league.

Perhaps those Barbara Cartland novels explain why she might have been oblivious to, say, what her husband might have been doing in her name. Doesn't excuse it, though.

Her return to PK was clearly as a US/UK stooge, Condoleezza Rice's "plan B" for Pakistan policy. She wasn't going back to engage in much-needed land reform.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 10:36:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
dizzying proportions...different league

Very possibly you're right. Many cynical minds reacted to her assassination here - What will be for Pakistan now? - my question and reply - No more looting. Period.

You see she came from wannabe family whatever journalists say about Bhutto's feudal fiefdom - she pretended to be a queen (as revealed in her highly fictional autobiography Daughter of the East) but was a mere pawn on Pakistan's chessboard.

Here in India we have had corruption on monumental scale especially amongst leaders from humble background - Mayawati's Taj Corridor case, Lalu's fodder scam, Badals amassing hundreds of crores (they are merely at the helm of religious Sikh party in Punjab), all Tamil low-caste politics whirling around cinestars et cetera, the whole corrupt innerparty culture of both Congress and BJP et cetera.

But contribution of these corrupt yet popular leaders to India's history is different from Bhutto's. Very often than not they are not mere pawns of Indian elites.

by FarEasterner on Thu Jan 3rd, 2008 at 11:51:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Pakistan is not US as Russia is not US and Africa is not US, don't know why Americans always need to compare their country with others especially when they have little knowledge about them.

To put it in a perspective that fellow westerners can relate to (although perhaps on this European blog the reference is somewhat misplaced).    Incidentally, I don't claim to be an expert on Pakistan (and the fact that I am half Indian doesn't qualify me as an expert on any part of the region either), but I wrote this diary because after hearing all the fluff about Bhutto I did some research and everything I found was in stark contrast to the way she was portrayed by my media, at least in my own country.    

With regard to your observation about corruption, I would have to take strong issue.   When a leader is incompetent or engaged in fantasy, as you agree Bhutto was, even if they are not corrupt themselves, it provides the perfect opening for corruption through manipulation of the "leader" by those around them, the results of which the "leader" ought to bear full responsibility.    

by gobacktotexas (dickcheneyfanclub@gmail.com) on Fri Jan 4th, 2008 at 01:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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