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Not Dead Yet

The Pakistan People’s Party Will Survive

by AYESHA IJAZ KHAN

If Musharraf had an iota of sincerity, he would step down. He would apologize to the nation for having embroiled it in bloodshed. He would acknowledge his mistakes and his powerlessness. And then, maybe, we might forgive him. But that is not likely to happen.

Instead, in his short and disturbed address to the nation, he continues to ask Pakistanis for their support in fighting terrorism. With suicide attacks at on an all-time high and the judiciary under house arrest, we find it difficult to trust Musharraf’s sincerity. The major political parties, Ms. Bhutto’s PPP as well as Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N), are blaming the government for the lapse in security that led to the tragic assassination of Ms. Bhutto.

Whether it was the religious extremists, elements within the government/intelligence agencies, external forces wishing to destabilize Pakistan or any combination of these three responsible for Ms. Bhutto’s death, an independent and thorough investigation is essential before any conclusion is reached. This is only possible if an independent judiciary conducts the inquiry, one in which the people of Pakistan can repose their trust. The credibility of the Musharraf government is so low that nobody in Pakistan would trust its investigative measures.

In her final days, Ms. Bhutto hinted at the complicity of certain elements within the Musharraf administration in threatening her life. At the time, the allegations were dismissed as political point scoring. But in the aftermath of her shocking demise, many Pakistanis are left questioning whether those allegations may have actually been true.

In the absence of any sort of confidence in the current administration, distraught political workers have taken to the streets. Infiltrated by criminal elements, they have burned tyres, blockaded roads and set ablaze banks and government buildings. The police, so effective in beating up the peaceful and democratic protestors of the lawyers’ movement, appear helpless in the face of hooligans and looters running loose on the streets of our major cities.

If the aim of the assassins was to eliminate Ms. Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party from Pakistan’s political landscape, they seemed to have forgotten that in death there is eternity. Like her father, Benazir, by her untimely death, has been redeemed in the eyes of even those Pakistanis who did not vote for her or did not agree with her political approach. She will be remembered as a courageous woman who made the ultimate sacrifice, braved the threats and paid for it with her life.

In the immediate aftermath of this heinous tragedy, her party workers will certainly face shock, confusion and disarray. But every tragedy has a silver lining. And, the PPP must galvanize itself and come back with a vengeance against the perpetrators of this crime. The elections scheduled for January 8, which most of us believed would be a sham, are now unlikely to take place. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, leader of the other main opposition party, has rightly decided on a boycott of the electoral exercise. The PPP must join the struggle undertaken by middle class civil society and lawyers’ movement and stress unequivocally the restoration of the deposed judiciary and implementation of rule of law so that an environment can be created whereby first, Ms. Bhutto’s death can be investigated by an impartial body, and second, Pakistan can move to a free and fair electoral process.

Too many Pakistanis have been haunted by suicide bombings and witnessed death too closely such that a party with a liberal and progressive past, like PPP, would stand a great chance in a free and fair election. The loss of Ms. Bhutto’s life is tremendous. But there are still some great leadership prospects for the PPP. In Aitzaz Ahsan, lead counsel in the internationally-publicized Chief Justice case and long-time PPP member, we have a very well-respected and nationally-recognized liberal man who could play a key unifying role.

The PPP could in fact emerge on a sounder footing, not just on the basis of one personality or family, but an ideology of a vibrant and democratic Pakistan. A party more in tune with the aspirations of the new generation, one that could bridge the increasing gap between political parties and the average citizen, one that has internal elections to decide on party leadership, an example for other political parties. In that scenario, the PPP could re-attract some of its key members who had recently abandoned it because of disillusionment with the party’s alienation from some of its historic power base, that of the liberal middle class intelligentsia.

Ms. Bhutto’s unfortunate and premature death is a great blow to the people of Pakistan. But we are not willing to accept some of the headlines in the western world commenting on the terrible tragedy as the "day that democracy died". Instead, we, the people of Pakistan, are determined to revive, resuscitate and take ownership of the Pakistan People’s Party. We are prepared to march on in the path of true democracy.

AYESHA IJAZ KHAN is a London-based lawyer and writer and can be contacted via her website, www.ayeshaijazkhan.com