Washington Babylon — October 24, 2007, 2:08 pm

Mo’ Bhutto Blues

I’m all in favor of Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan, but the fawning over the former Prime Minister by American political leaders and the media is way out of control. Bhutto, who had been exiled on corruption charges for almost a decade, has struck a power-sharing deal with President Pervez Musharraf. Just after her return last week, two suicide bombers attacked a huge procession welcoming her back to the country.

If she manages to stay alive, Bhutto’s return might well push her county back towards democracy. But she’s not a saint. Her father, a feudal lord, was overthrown as president by the military and executed in 1979. In 1988, following nearly a decade of martial law, Bhutto won office as prime minister but was forced out less than two years later over allegations of corruption. She won office again in 1993 but was removed from power once more in 1996–again under a cloud of corruption. Her two terms were also marked by serious human rights abuses. Today, Bhutto heads the Pakistan People’s Party, which despite its name is little more than a vehicle for her own political ambitions.

Corruption charges against Bhutto were dropped as part of the deal she reached with Musharraf, but there was plenty of evidence behind the allegations. Those interested might look to a 1997 story in the New York Times, which described a:

widening corruption inquiry that Pakistani investigators say has traced more than $100 million to foreign bank accounts and properties controlled by Ms. Bhutto’s family. Starting from a cache of Bhutto family documents bought for $1 million from a shadowy intermediary, the investigators have detailed a pattern of secret payments by foreign companies that sought favors during Ms. Bhutto’s two terms as Prime Minister.

A central figure in the investigation was Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari. The Times wrote that he “turned his marriage to Ms. Bhutto into a source of virtually unchallengeable power.” The story described a number of shady deals involving Zardari–like the one in which “a leading Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan paid millions of dollars between 1994 and 1996 to offshore companies controlled by Mr. Zardari and Ms. Bhutto’s widowed mother, Nusrat.” Then there was the $10 million deposit into an account controlled by Zardari by a Middle Eastern gold bullion dealer–a deposit made “after the Bhutto Government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan’s jewelry industry.”

What accounts for Bhutto’s general popularity in Washington? As reporters never tire of reporting, she’s a Harvard alumnus, and Ivy League connections never hurt. (The press loves a foreign leader with an Ivy sheepskin. Remember when newspapers played up the Harvard Yard credentials of President Carlos Salinas of Mexico–until it finally became clear that Salinas’s brother, cronies, and friends grew obscenely rich during his rule?) A recent New York Times story notes that she was “first introduced to America’s political power brokers in 1984, via the dinner party circuit.” Her chief promoter and ardent friend was Peter Galbraith, who later became U.S ambassador to Croatia and is a Harvard man himself.

When she was prime minister in 1989 Bhutto was honored at President George Bush’s first state dinner, and, the Times reported, she “maintained her close ties to Washington during the Clinton administration” both while prime minister and after living in exile. In 1998, Bhutto won a White House audience with Hillary Clinton through Mark Siegel, a Democratic operative.

It’s fine to root for Bhutto. But don’t imagine she’s a sainted opposition figure. Pakistan has had its fair share of corrupt leadership, and Bhutto may simply be a better class of crook.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

The Trouble with Iowa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Queen and I

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Estimated percentage of New Hampshire’s bat population that died in 2010:

65

A horticulturalist in Florida announced a new low-carb potato.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today