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:

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

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2015

Abolish High School

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beat Reporter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Going It Alone

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rotten Ice

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Life After Guantánamo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Joke

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Rotten Ice·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“When I asked if we were going to die, he smiled and said, ‘Imaqa.’ Maybe.”
Photograph © Kari Medig
Article
Life After Guantánamo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’ve seen the hell and I’m still in the beginning of my life.”
Illustration by Caroline Gamon
Article
Going It Alone·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The call to solitude is universal. It requires no cloister walls and no administrative bureaucracy, only the commitment to sit down and still ourselves to our particular aloneness.”
Photograph by Richard Misrach
[Browsings]
Cuckoo Spit and Ski Jumps·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The proof of his existence was this brain, and by attaching himself to it, and the power of it, he created a little bit of immortality for himself.”
Illustration by Lou Beach
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida:

240

Florida’s wildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.

A 64-year-old mother and her 44-year-old son were arrested for running a gang that stole more than $100,000 worth of toothbrushes from Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS stores in Florida.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today