A Note on the Return of Benazir Bhutto

Stig Toft Madsen

October 22, 2007

The return of Benazir Bhutto was both marvelous and tragic. If the TV screen does not convey the full picture, one may read Christina Lamb’s eye-witness account in The Sunday Times on October 21st

“So, who did it?”, Lamb asks speculating that “Potential suspects include ethnic groups such as the MQM, the organisation that vies with the PPP for rule of Karachi, Taliban sympathisers and even old-guard politicians in deadly opposition to Bhutto.” One may add to the list Dawood Ibrahim, the smuggler wanted in connection with the 1992 Bombay blasts, whom Benazir Bhutto has reportedly threatened to hand over to India (B. Raman, Chronicles Of An Attack Foretold, Outlook, October 19, www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20071019&fname=benazir&sid=1). Benazir’s husband quickly named Brig. Ejaz Shah, the head of the Intelligence Bureau. According to intelligence analyst B. Raman, Shah’s men and the Sind police formed the outer ring around Benazir’s convoy. The fact that the suicides bomber(s) got so close to the vehicle indicates that something was amiss – as does the mysterious switching off of street lights, which, Lamb notes, has often accompanied murder in Karachi. On the other hand, the attack may simply have been carried by one or two men sent off from somewhere in Pakistan with a suicide belt and a grenade, a bit of money for the road, and the instruction to get as close as possible. Granted that the convoy was moving at a snail’s pace for hours on end, the security cordon was hardly impenetrable. In South Asia, people often grant the state the capacity to maintain peace and order at will. In reality, the state is less than omnipotent.

The attack on Benazir’s convoy was also an attack on a procession. Religious and political processions occupy public space, physically, visually and audibly (South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora, Knut A Jacobsen (ed), Routledge, forthcoming). Benazir’s procession was a kind of pilgrimage to the tomb of the Father of the Nation. Music, dance and colorful displays accompanied the event. People from all walks of life were participating. Politically challenging, the procession also challenged the drab aesthetics of the Islam that allows no worship of life, or even of graves.

Thus, the attack on Benazir is part of the war against popular Islam that Islamists are waging in the Subcontinent. Earlier this month, a bomb exploded at the most venerated Muslim shrine in the Subcontinent, i.e. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine in Ajmer in Rajastan (“The war against popular Islam” by Praveen Swami in The Hindu Chishti is sometimes called Garib Nawaz, i.e. the Emperor of the Poor. The poor also participated in Benazir’s procession. They may get a chance to vote but they cannot themselves stand for election. The present election rules require that candidates hold a bachelor degree. When the dust clears, such undemocratic bottlenecks may come in for review.


17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China

Introduction to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China

Comment by Jesper Schlæger

The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will convene in Beijing on 15 October 2007. The congress is formally the highest body within the Communist Party of China and it is convened with the purpose of, most importantly, determining leadership succession issues, amending the party constitution, and selecting a Central Committee.

The resulting documents of the Congress are very important for Chinese politics: they divide competences between the party leadership, and as the Communist Party is the ruling party, the leaders’ position within the party also relates to the position they are going to assume within the government. Decisions on policy and personnel are generally made by the Central Committee before the Congress. The Congress is thus mostly a showcase for the agreements reached, and some amazing footage will be shown of a hall full of people simultaneously raising their hands to vote.

When the hands go up the rhetoric of the leadership is institutionalized. This time the Central Committee has decided to enshrine Jiang Zemin’s ‘Three represents’along with Hu Jintao’s ‘scientific concept of development’ within the party constitution. Note that the wording in the party constitution avoids calling either of the theories by the name of its progenitor, like the Mao Zedong Thought or Deng Xiaoping Theory, and consequently hamper the progenitor’s right to interpretation of the theories.

Leadership changes at senior levels are going to take place, as the older members of the Politburo will retire. In Chinese elite politics position means powers, and the seats vacated are coveted by contenders from different factions of the party mainly built around Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. But how does one get a position? Who determines the rules of the game?

There are no formal rules that guide the leadership selection. Hence the process is characterised by bargaining – and bargaining has been tough leading up to this year’s party congress. Since 16th Party Congress changes in provincial leadership have been carried out that reflect a support for the policies of ‘harmonious society’ proposed by Hu Jintao, but the outcome of the preparatory meeting of the Central Committee friday left room for a strengthening of the Jiang Zemin supporting wing within the party. Hu will probably retire by the 18th Congress in 2012, and the 17th Congress will give some clues as to who is likely to become his sucessor. Currently the two most likely candidates are Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who rely on different party factions for support.

Important policy issues to be discussed during the congress relate to environment, public health, pension reform, and education, and the signs of an overheating economy; in short, questions pertaining to the legitimization and adaptation of the Communist Party faced with development related social conflicts and challenges of increasing wealth disparity on provincial level as well as between rich and poor. The Congress will give indications on how these problems are to be tackled, in the shape of frames determining the limits of acceptable policies.

Fighting corruption has already been underscored as an important theme with the Central Committee’s confirmation of the ousting of former Shanghai mayor and member of the Central Committee Chen Liangyu along with other party members found guilty on charges of corruption.

Delegates to the Congress are a mixture of some of the most powerful people in China and delegates, who represent different minorities alongside a number of ‘model workers’. The latter do not necessarily have any significant impact on national policy, but their presence underlines the legitimizing purpose of the Congress. 2,213 delegates will participate in the Congress. Originally the delegates numbered 2,217 but one was expelled for disciplinary reasons and three have deceased in the period from the elections till now.

The media coverage of the event is substantial. Both Xinhua and China Daily provide theme pages on the 17th Party Congress. The Congress is scheduled to end on 21 October.


An Unpleasantry of Necessities

By Stig Toft Madsen, Senior researcher at NIAS

2007 has been an eventful year in Pakistani politics. Three major political forces – the military, the political parties and the Islamists – have repeatedly engaged each other as friends or as foes. Because the Pakistani political landscape is so volatile, the judiciary has repeatedly been called into play to legitimize or de-legitimize political acts.

In July, when the Supreme Court ruled against the dismissal of the Chief Justice by Presidential fiat, it momentarily seemed as if the judiciary was gaining the upper hand vis-à-vis the executive and the military. The judiciary has been subject to much bullying by both military and civilian rulers (and to outright murder by Islamists) in this corner of the Indian subcontinent. Its reemergence as the arbiter of constitutional norms and principles could spell a major breakthrough. However, pat came a Supreme Court ruling allowing President Musharraf to seek re-election as President while still in uniform. This judgement was followed by another on October 5th confirming the go-ahead for Presidential elections. The elections were held on October 6th with General Musharraf winning a “landslide” victory.

Meanwhile, Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto almost sealed a long-awaited deal allowing Benazir Bhutto to return to Pakistan to run for the post as Prime Minister in the scheduled national elections. Insisting that cases pending against her and her husband be dropped before she would return, Benazir upped the ante in nightlong negotiations demanding that all cases be dropped against all politicians irrespective of party affiliation for the period 1986 to October 1999 when Nawaz Sharif was deposed. Musharraf acceded to this demand. On October 5, he promoted a National Reconciliation Order granting politicians what one commentator has termed “a licence to loot”.

The deal between Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf goes to show how far these two religiously moderate political leaders are willing to go in order to patch together an alternative to the Islamist parties. Since her father was hanged under General Zia ul Haq, Benazir has projected herself as the democratic alternative to military rule, while Musharraf for his part has projected himself as the necessary military alternative to corrupt politicians such as Benazir Bhutto. Now the two foes are coming together to give shape to an enlightened moderate form of Islam. If the deal has been subject to hard bargaining for several months, this shows how difficult it is for the military and the political parties to agree to a power-sharing formula between an elected Prime Minister and a President backed by the military. The duumvirate is likely to prove fragile.

The deal also goes to show how difficult it is for the military to find an “honorable exit” for its Chief of Army Staff cum President. Previous military dictators in Pakistan have exited either due to ill health (Ayub Khan), the loss of territory (Yahya Khan), or fatal accident/assassination (Zia ul Haq). Musharraf is the first coup general trying to try to exit slowly and honorably.

Recent events show that key institutions are still poorly rooted. To outside observers and Pakistanis alike, high politics seems to allow and demand unlimited contestation and manipulation. This state of affairs has deeply affected the judiciary. Witness the tailormade President to Hold Another Office Act of 2004 which states that, “The holder of the office of the President of Pakistan may, in addition to his office, hold the office of the Chief of the Army Staff” …. Provided that this provision shall be valid only of the present holder of the office of the President” (www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/).

Or witness the brand new ordinance which states in section 33A that “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Ordinance or any other law for the time being in force, proceedings under investigation or pending in any court including a High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan initiated by or on a reference by the National Accountability Bureau inside or outside Pakistan including proceedings continued under section 33, requests for mutual assistance and civil party to proceedings initiated by the Federal Government before the 12th day of October, 1999 against holders of public office stand withdrawn and terminated with immediate effect and such holders of public office shall also not be liable to any action in future as well under this Ordinance for acts having been done in good faith before the said date”(www.pakistani.org/pakistan/legislation/2007/NationalReconciliationOrdinance.html). Considering the many and varied allegations of corruption raised against Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and other politicians, the largesse shown to them seems overwhelming.

With such acts and ordinances on the book, it is hardly surprising that the Pakistani higher judiciary has to take recourse to its early legal invention, i.e. the “doctrine of necessity”, which in effect states that necessity makes the illegal legal. If need be, everything goes.

If ever there was a post-modern paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!