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The Kleptocrat in an Hermes Headscarf

by JEMIMA KHAN

She’s back. Hurrah! She’s a woman. She’s brave. She’s a moderate. She speaks good English. She’s Oxford-educated, no less. And she’s not bad looking either.

I admit I’m biased. I don’t like Benazir Bhutto. She called me names during her election campaign in 1996 and it left a bitter taste. Petty personal grievances aside, I still find jubilant reports of her return to Pakistan depressing. Let’s be clear about this before she’s turned into a martyr.

This is no Aung San Suu Kyi, despite her repeated insistence that she’s “fighting for democracy”, or even more incredibly, “fighting for Pakistan’s poor”.

This is the woman who was twice dismissed on corruption charges. She went into self-imposed exile while investigations continued into millions she had allegedly stashed away into Swiss bank accounts ($1.5 billion by the reckoning of Musharraf’s own “National Accountability Bureau”).

She has only been able to return because Musharraf, that megalomaniac, knows that his future depends on the grassroots diehard supporters inherited from her father’s party, the PPP.

As a result, Musharraf, who in his first months in power declared it his express intention to wipe out corruption, has dropped all charges against her and granted her immunity from prosecution. Forever.

Notably, he did not do the same for his other political rival, Nawaz Sharif, who was recently deported after attempting his own spectacular return to Pakistan.

But the difference is that Benazir is a pro at playing to the West. And that’s what counts. She talks about women and extremism and the West applauds. And then conspires.

The Americans and the British are acutely aware that their strategy in the region is failing and that Musharraf’s hold on power is ever more tenuous. They have pressed hard for Benazir and the General to cut a deal that would allow them to share power for the next five years in a “liberal forces government”.

It’s all totally bogus. Benazir may speak the language of liberalism and look good on Larry King’s sofa, but both her terms in office were marked by incompetence, extra-judicial killings and brazen looting of the treasury, with the help of her husband–famously known in Pakistan as Mr 10 Per Cent.

In a country that tops the international corruption league, she was its most self-enriching leader.

Benazir has always cynically used her gender to manipulate: I loved her answer to David Frost when he asked her how many millions she had in her Swiss bank accounts. “David, I think that’s a very sexist question.”

A non sequitur (does loot have a gender?) but one that brought the uncomfortable line of questioning to a swift end.

Of all Pakistan’s elected leaders she conspicuously did the least to help the cause of women. She never, for example, repealed the Hudood Ordinances, Pakistan’s controversial laws that made no distinction between rape and adultery.

She preferred instead to kowtow to the mullahs in order to cling to power, forming an expedient alliance with Pakistan’s Religious Coalition Party and leaving Pakistan’s women as powerless as she found them.

The problem is that the West never seems to learn; playing favourites in a complicated nation’s politics always backfires. Imposing Benazir on Pakistan is the opposite of democratic and doubtless will cause more chaos in an already unstable country.

Make no mistake, Benazir may look the part, but she’s as ruthless and conniving as they come–a kleptocrat in a Hermes headscarf.

JEMIMA KHAN is an ambassador to Unicef.

 

 

 

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