The First Government of Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime minister of a modern Muslim state, is clearly the beneficiary of dynastic politics and of the emotional ties of a large section of the electorate to her charismatic family. However, this legacy as the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto has proven to be a mixed political blessing. Although she inherited her father's party, the PPP, and has led it to victory, the party won a very narrow plurality in the 1988 elections and was therefore forced to enter into a coalition with the MQM (representing Pakistan's muhajir community) and several other parties in order to form a government. Benazir wanted to repeal the Eighth Amendment in order to strengthen her position as prime minister but could not muster sufficient political support and soon abandoned the effort. Benazir also faced not only the old problems of the political role of the military forces, the division of power between the central and provincial governments, and the role of Islam, but also pressing new ones, including a large budget deficit and growing ethnic violence.
Several early actions appeared to strengthen Benazir's ability to deal with these problems. In choosing her cabinet, for example, Benazir kept the portfolios of finance and defense for herself but appointed a seasoned bureaucrat, Wasim Jafari, as her top adviser on finance and economic affairs. Her retention of Zia's foreign minister, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, signaled continuity in pursuit of the country's policy on Afghanistan. Also, when working out their political coalition, the MQM agreed to support the PPP government at both federal and provincial levels. The agreement, signed by the Sindh-based MQM and the head of the PPP in Sindh, pledged to protect and safeguard the interests of all the people of Sindh, regardless of language, religion, or origin of birth, as well as to stamp out violence and to support the rule of law. The agreement--short-lived, as it turned out--was an effort to achieve peace and cooperation between the indigenous population and the muhajirs in Benazir's troubled home province.
Benazir's assumption of office brought great expectations from inside as well as outside Pakistan. In her first address to the nation, Benazir pledged to work for a progressive and democratic Pakistan--one guided by Islamic principles of brotherhood, equality, and tolerance. At the same time, she invoked the Quaid-i-Azam's vision for a Pakistan that would grow as a modern state. Benazir's rhetoric soared, promising much to an expectant nation: strengthened relations with the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; protected minority rights; increased provincial autonomy; improvement of education; introduction of a comprehensive national health policy; enhanced rights for women, with equal pay for equal work; and the like. When faced with the hard realities of government, however, most of Benazir's rhetoric did not translate into action. Although she was successful in advancing the democratization process in Pakistani politics and was able to achieve warmer relations with the United States and, for a short while, with India as well, Benazir's first term in office is usually looked back upon, by both foreign and domestic observers, as ineffectual--a period of governmental instability. Within months she had lost much of her political support.
The scion of the feudal elite of Sindh, the Harvardand Oxford-educated Benazir was often described as autocratic during her first term. Although she spoke of healing wounds and putting an end to the past, she was inexorably tied to her father's political legacy, which included harsh repression of political opposition. Further, her appointment of her mother, Nusrat, as a senior minister without portfolio, followed by the selection of her father-in-law as chairman of the parliamentary public accounts committee, was viewed in some quarters as ill-advised nepotism. Benazir's government also set up the controversial Placement Bureau, which made political appointments to the civil bureaucracy, although the bureau was later abolished. Benazir let the political legacy of her family intrude, for example, when able public servants, who had earlier harbored disagreements with her father, were dismissed for reasons other than job performance.
Benazir also had to contend with growing political opposition. As a political power broker, she was in the late 1980s no match for her main rival, then chief minister of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif. In the 1988 elections that brought Benazir to power, her party had won the largest number of seats in the National Assembly but controlled only one of the four provinces. Punjab, the most populous province, with over half of Pakistan's population, came under the control of the opposition IJI and of its leader, Nawaz Sharif, who was the only major political figure from the Zia era to survive the reemergence of the PPP. To maintain her power and implement her programs, Benazir would have needed to maneuver successfully between a powerful president and the military elite and to reach a political accommodation with Nawaz Sharif. Instead, she pursued a course of confrontation, including unsuccessful efforts to overthrow him in the provincial assembly. In addition, the failure of the PPP to share power and spoils with its coalition partners caused further alienation, including the withdrawal of the MQM from the government in October 1989.
The public's sense of disillusionment deepened as the government failed to deliver its promised employment and economic development programs. Inflation and unemployment were high, and the country's burgeoning population put increased pressure on already overburdened education and health systems. The government also failed to deal with the country's growing drug abuse problem, and there was opposition from religious conservatives who distrusted the degree of Benazir's commitment to the state's Islamic principles. Despite tensions, disagreements, and mutual misgivings, however, Benazir continued to be supported by the armed forces. The chief of the army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, publicly stated his intention to maintain a politically neutral army.
Benazir narrowly survived a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly in October 1989. Her government did not compile a record of accomplishment that might have helped to offset her other difficulties. No new legislation was passed, and fewer than a dozen bills, all minor amendments to existing legislation, passed the National Assembly. Benazir complained that legislation was stymied because the Senate was dominated by her opposition.
Benazir's problems were further accentuated in February 1990 when an MQM-directed strike in Karachi escalated into rioting that virtually paralyzed the city. The strike had been called to protest the alleged abduction of MQM supporters by the PPP. The resulting loss of life and property forced Benazir to call in the army to restore order. In addition to the violence in Sindh and elsewhere, she had to cope with increasing charges of corruption leveled not only at her associates, but at her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and father-in-law. On the international front, Pakistan faced heightened tensions with India over Kashmir and problems associated with the unresolved Afghan war.
Finally, on August 6, 1990, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the Benazir government, dissolved the National Assembly as well as the Sindh and North-West Frontier Province provincial assemblies, and appointed a caretaker government headed by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, the leader of the Combined Opposition Parties in the National Assembly. In accordance with the constitution, the president scheduled national and provincial elections for October 1990. Ishaq Khan said his actions were justified because of corruption, incompetence, and inaction; the release of convicted criminals under the guise of freeing political prisoners; a failure to maintain law and order in Sindh; and the use of official government machinery to promote partisan interests. A nationwide state of emergency was declared, citing both "external aggression and internal disturbance." Benazir called her dismissal "illegal, unconstitutional, and arbitrary" and implied that the military was responsible. She added that the PPP would not take to the streets to avoid giving Ghulam Ishaq Khan's regime's any pretext for not holding scheduled elections. The military proclaimed that its only interest was in maintaining order.
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