In Pakistan Benazir Bhutto's Dismissal Is Deja Vu All over Again

By Ali, M. M. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

In Pakistan Benazir Bhutto's Dismissal Is Deja Vu All over Again


Ali, M. M., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


In Pakistan Benazir Bhutto's Dismissal Is Déjà Vu All Over Again

On the same day Americans went to the polls to elect a president for the next four years, President Farooq Ahmed Leghari dismissed the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan two years before the end of its five-year term. As Pakistanis had feared or hoped for some time (see the Nov./Dec. 1996 Washington Report), her administration was forced to leave office prematurely, just as she had been in 1990, on charges of "corruption, nepotism and mismanagement." Again it was the now-infamous Eighth Amendment in Pakistan's constitution that was invoked by the president to remove an elected prime minister and the National Assembly.

Six years ago, it was Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a non-party president, who dismissed Bhutto's government. This time, however, she was removed by a member of her own People's Party.

Pakistan is paying a heavy price for the years of authoritarian rule that have atrophied democratic institutions and opened up opportunities for a succession of shortsighted, self-aggrandizing and unscrupulous leaders and their coteries. Military dictators have run the country intermittently for 24 of its 50 years of existence by banning political parties and prohibiting political activities from university campuses, the traditional nurseries for politicians in the subcontinent.

Not every calamity, however, can be attributed to the army. The old adage that "he who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it" applies all too well in the case of Benazir Bhutto.

The Charges

The proclamation issued by President Leghari reads in part: "Whereas during the last three years thousands of persons in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan have been deprived of their right to life...instead of ensuring proper investigation of these extra-judicial killings, the government has taken pride that in this manner the law and order situation has been controlled...Powerful members of the federal and provincial governments, who are themselves accused of crime, influence and control the law-enforcing agencies...The government has...sought to undermine the independence of the judiciary that is guaranteed by the constitution...The prime minister and her government have deliberately violated on a massive scale the fight of privacy...through illegal phone-tapping and eavesdropping...Corruption, nepotism and violation of rules in the administration of the government and its various bodies has become so extensive that the orderly functioning of the government...has become impossible...Public faith in the integrity and honesty of the government has disappeared."

Differing only in the details, the charges resemble those leveled in 1990 when Benazir Bhutto's first administration was summarily removed from office. However, people who know Leghari believe that while he may have agreed with the decision, he was not the sole author of the strongly worded proclamation that went out in his name. It was no secret that army chief of staff General Karamath was equally unhappy with the Bhutto administration and many think the army brought about the change.

Nevertheless, when President Leghari or intermediaries raised rumors relating to corruption or violations of law and order in recent meetings with Prime Minister Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, those meetings were far from friendly. Now the president has promised elections within 90 days as required by the constitution.

The Eighth Amendment

The ousted prime minister is challenging in the courts the charges leveled against her administration. The question she is asking the Supreme Court of Pakistan to rule on is whether there was sufficient cause for such an action.

The Eighth Amendment that enables the president to remove a prime minister was added to the constitution by a former president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, to give him leverage over his prime minister. He used the provision to get rid of Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo. …

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