Bhutto back under house arrest… and the Toronto Star’s bizarre take on it all

So Benazir Bhutto is back under house arrest – the regime is trying to prevent her from leading a major protest, a cross-country caravan. The regime has also tried to placate international opinion by promising elections in January. But the Americans have said they want the emergency lifted as well – that was their reply.

The counterinsurgency continues in the border areas with Afghanistan. This story, not all of which I understood because I don’t know all the actors involved, describes what seems to be a situation in which different groups of militants from the region where there is active fighting with the Pakistani military are also fighting each other – a kidnap between supporters of Maulana Fazlullah captured Maulana Mohammad Ali alias Maulana Nider.

Another really odd development, that I don’t think is just at “normal” levels but I could be wrong, seems to be that there is more frequent fighting in Kashmir, with the Indian army claiming to be killing “militants”, several in recent days.

I’m on Tarek Fatah’s mailing list and he’s been sending around interesting material on Pakistan. This article from the UK describes some of the Pakistan spy agency’s tactics and how they tried to use sex blackmail to bring the Supreme Court to heel. When that failed, there was always the coup and simply firing them.

Tarek Fatah also takes issue with Haroon Siddiqui, who I have to admit I don’t often read. Tarek Fatah wrote this about Siddiqui: ‘While Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star describes Pakistan’s Military dictators as having “been personally financially honest and, for the most part, have provided stable government”‘, which struck me as an appallingly ignorant thing to say, if Siddiqui had in fact said it.

So I went and looked at Siddiqui’s last three columns (here, here and here) and they are, indeed, very badly informed and quite confused.

Confused because on the one hand, the analysis is at an elite level, about how clever Musharraf is and the moves he’s taking to stay in power, and takes the parochial, “Canadian interests in the region” view of matters, which is among the least interesting ways for Canadians or anybody to look at this situation. And on the other hand, his criticisms of Benazir Bhutto and the judges are based on Bhutto having foreign support and the judges not having street credibility (I won’t speculate on the status of Siddiqui’s street cred since my point is that is an uninteresting game to be playing). Bhutto does have a past that includes elite maneouvering and massive corruption. But her current role and potential role are such that she could be very important in getting rid of a dictator – and one that is as “foreign” supported and imperial as any out there. The same goes for the judges – again, leaving aside that I’m again unsure from where Siddiqui can criticize Pakistani judges for being elite figures – they were overthrown by Musharraf because they exposed the corruption and tortures of the military and because they were trying to uphold some basic legal framework.

As for Siddiqui’s argument that the Americans won’t dump Musharraf because they’ve given him $10 billion, there are plenty of comfortable villas in the first world that house former dictators, heavily invested in by the Americans, that left their countries when the Americans told them the game was up. It’s not worth picking up after someone like Siddiqui on this matter at much more length – but it’s an inconsistent analysis, out of touch with history and out of touch with important elements of what is going on, and presumptuous beyond his knowledge or understanding. It thus combines some of the worst elements of Canadian mainstream punditry, which I probably pay more attention to than it’s worth.

It still seems to me that the good scenario is one in which popular mobilization and pressure from the outside topple Musharraf and have an election that gets a civilian government in power. That won’t get rid of the military’s power, it won’t get rid of the Americans next door in Afghanistan, it won’t get rid of the other structural and regional problems in the country and in South Asia, but it will give people in Pakistan who have been fighting so valiantly all these years a bit more breathing room and space to maneuver. The bad scenarios are multiple.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.