Benazir's tragic failure

<strong>Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West</strong>

Benazir Bhutto <em>Simon & Schuste

The apotheosis of Benazir Bhutto the martyr has begun. Her grave in the arid soil of Sind Pro vince on her family's feudal estate has become a shrine. Pilgrims visit it every day. Soon there will be reports of miracles. Her gender, her youthfulness, her sense of victimhood, her bravery and the violent manner of her death made this inevitable. Beyond Sind, in other provinces and the rest of the world, she has become a much easier figure to worship and adore in death than the deeply flawed politician she was in life.

Bhutto's essays on Islam and democracy, published posthumously under the title Reconciliation, are seen as a last and "valuable" testament by American admirers of hers, the Democrats Edward Kennedy, Madeleine Albright and Peter Gal braith (son of J K) and Walter Isaacson, the former boss of Time magazine and CNN. For those less elevated persons, the book brings her back to earth with a bump. The real Benazir is among us again, bossing the reader about, dissembling or ignoring facts that don't fit her image or record, such as being prime minister of Pakistan when the country enthusiastically swung its support behind the newly emergent Taliban in Afghan istan's civil war. She talks about "my party", even though the Pakistan People's Party has never held an election for officers in its 40 years of existence. She writes poor and often factually incorrect political histories of other countries with the overconfidence of a clever teenager.

In many ways this disjointed book has the same feel as a university student's end-of-degree dissertation. The editing is haphazard. There is even a map of Pakistan where Rawalpindi, the garrison-town headquarters of the Pakistan armed forces, is placed in the southern half of Punjab, when it should be 500 miles north, next door to Islamabad. It needs an index, especially of Arabic words and Quranic terms.

It would seem from the "acknowledgements" that a platoon of researchers, led by a former political enemy but now "loyal friend" - Hussain Haqqani, a student activist of Pakistan's fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party and later spokesman and propagandist for her rival Nawaz Sharif - dug through the archives and the Quran to find the facts and verses she needed for her central arguments. These are that democracy is integral to Islam and is not a modern import as fundamentalist interpreters argue; that dictators and extremism have no place in the Quran; and that moderation, dialogue and consensus, and a Benazir favourite, "religious pluralism", are the word of God. Only by following this course will Muslim societies be revitalised and Muslim countries regain their self-confidence, their respect and their "competitive edge", another Benazir favourite.

It is an interesting section of the book, but it has the feel of Benazir deciding an agenda and adding her notes to another person's text. The problem with this kind of research is that her Islamic opponents can trawl through the Quran and the religious commentaries in the same way and come up with their own, equally valid counter-interpretations of God's will.

The predictable message she has for the west, and for the United States in particular, is to back off from military rulers and other autocrats on the grounds that whenever people's rights have been denied, instability has eventually taken over and extremists stepped into the gap. When it comes to her own country she blames everyone but herself and her prime minister father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, for its decline. Not surprisingly, both father and daughter emerge as politicians with vision and integrity who were thwarted all the way by Pakistan's armed forces and a coalition of foreign-financed political rivals. Her achievements, apart from being elected prime minister, are hard to find. They peaked apparently when she "modernised" the Karachi Stock Exchange - which probably meant she reduced the number of duplicates needed for a transaction - and sent students into the countryside, Mao-style, to ensure that children were immunised against polio.

It is the final section, the one from which the book takes its title, that sets out the way Muslims should end their divisions and how the rich of the world - the European Union, North America, China, Australia, Japan and the Muslim oil-producing states - can help and benefit, too. She wants to establish a Marshall Plan for the re generation of Muslim-majority countries that would focus on economic, social and political development. She expects this to destroy the "roots of terrorism".

Visionary, or waffle? From the moment Benazir Bhutto entered politics, she sounded good, her speeches read well, and she was appealing. She could play the victim, the humble woman, the populist and the demagogue. Like her father, she held the crowd in her hands. In the end, however, it was simply power and international status that she sought and enjoyed.

She always made the right noises. She followed political fashion, skipping easily from socialism to Thatcherism. She enjoyed analysing, usually aloud. Yet solutions to difficult problems, even simple problems, escaped her. This book is pure Benazir, a grand display, intellectually and politically thin.

This article first appeared in the 03 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Gas gangsters