Javaid Laghari (Senator of Pakistan, Pakistan’s People’s Party-PPP)
Sherry Rehman (Member of Parliament- National Assembly of Pakistan, President of Central Policy Planning and Central Information, Secretary of PPP)
Bruce Reidel (Senior Fellow, Brooking Institution)
On December 27, 2007 Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister and leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP), was assassinated after delivering an impassioned speech about the future for democracy in Pakistan to hundreds of her followers. The event has polarized the country causing an increased rate of political violence. Many are concerned about what this means for the future of democracy in the country. President Musharraf has already suspended the elections (which were supposed to be held in January) until February, though many are doubtful that even if the elections are held that they will be run freely and fairly.
On January 22, 2008 the Brookings Institute hosted two members of the PPP to discuss the upcoming elections and the future of the PPP after Bhutto’s assassination. Before beginning his or her comments, each speaker took a moment to pay tribute to Bhutto, a brave woman who knowingly gave her life in the fight for democracy.
The speakers briefly discussed the assassination itself and the controversy surrounding the investigation. Senator Laghari pointed out many problematic areas in the investigation including failure to hear all of the witness testimonials and the failure to keep the crime scene intact for more than a few hours. He says that this controversy has caused a major decline in public support for the current regime, which appears it has something to hide. Laghari called for a larger political investigation, conducted by the UN, to find out who was responsible.
The attack has been identified as an attempt to break the PPP and destabilize the country. Rehman called this attempt a failure, identifying the smooth leadership transition within seventy-two hours of Bhutto’s death as evidence. According to a Gallup poll, 63% of Pakistanis believe that the party handled the situation well. Due to this support combined with the PPP’s strong social platform (which addresses economic fundamentals, education, and water access), the PPP is confident it can win the next election.
In terms of the future of democracy for Pakistan, all three speakers identified the United States as part of the problem. Bruce Reidel noted that over the past fifty years, US foreign policy has not been to back democracy but instead to support dictatorship. Currently, there is over 11 billion dollars of US aid to Pakistan that cannot be accounted for, the US approval rating is the lowest among Pakistanis it has ever been, and terrorism has increased throughout the country.
Every speaker emphasized how important it is to Pakistani democracy that the US hold the Musharraf government to a higher standard and provide them with the oversight needed for free and fair elections. Reidel added that the stakes for the US are incredibly high- specifically noting how the US’s greatest fears play out in Pakistan: the potential for nuclear war and suicide bombings. He said that the worst thing the US could do is take military action in an attempt to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arms- “to even talk about that,” said Reidel, “is to make a bad situation worse.”
Sponsor: The Brookings Institution
Location: The Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium
Date: January 14, 2008
Time: 11:00 am- 12:30 pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 50
Intern Attending: Micaela Klein