October 21, 2007; The Telegraph (UK)
Return of Benazir Bhutto
The Kleptocrat in an Hermes Headscarf
by Jemima Khan
[Jemima Khan is an ambassador to UNICEF.]
She's back. Hurrah! She's a woman. She's brave. She's a moderate. She speaks
good English. She's Oxford-educated, no less. And she's not bad looking either.
I admit I'm biased.
I don't like Benazir Bhutto.
She called me names during her election campaign in 1996 and it left a bitter
Petty personal grievances aside, I still find jubilant reports of her return to
Let's be clear about this before she's turned into a martyr.
This is no Aung San Suu Kyi, despite her repeated insistence that she's
"fighting for democracy", or even more incredibly, "fighting for Pakistan's
This is the woman who was twice dismissed on corruption charges.
She went into self-imposed exile while investigations continued into millions
she had allegedly stashed away into Swiss bank accounts ($1.5 billion by the
reckoning of Musharraf's own "National Accountability Bureau").
She has only been able to return because Musharraf, that megalomaniac, knows
that his future depends on the grassroots diehard supporters inherited from her
father's party, the PPP.
As a result, Musharraf, who in his first months in power declared it his express
intention to wipe out corruption, has dropped all charges against her and
granted her immunity from prosecution.
Notably, he did not do the same for his other political rival, Nawaz Sharif, who
was recently deported after attempting his own spectacular return to Pakistan.
But the difference is that Benazir is a pro at playing to the West. And that's
She talks about women and extremism and the West applauds.
And then conspires.
The Americans and the British are acutely aware that their strategy in the
region is failing and that Musharraf's hold on power is ever more tenuous.
They have pressed hard for Benazir and the General to cut a deal that would
allow them to share power for the next five years in a "liberal forces
It's all totally bogus.
Benazir may speak the language of liberalism and look good on Larry King's sofa,
but both her terms in office were marked by incompetence, extra-judicial
killings and brazen looting of the treasury, with the help of her
husband--famously known in Pakistan as Mr 10 Per Cent.
In a country that tops the international corruption league, she was its most
Benazir has always cynically used her gender to manipulate: I loved her answer
to David Frost when he asked her how many millions she had in her Swiss bank
"David, I think that's a very sexist question."
A non sequitur (does loot have a gender?) but one that brought the uncomfortable
line of questioning to a swift end.
Of all Pakistan's elected leaders she conspicuously did the least to help the
cause of women.
She never, for example, repealed the Hudood Ordinances, Pakistan's controversial
laws that made no distinction between rape and adultery.
She preferred instead to kowtow to the mullahs in order to cling to power,
forming an expedient alliance with Pakistan's Religious Coalition Party and
leaving Pakistan's women as powerless as she found them.
The problem is that the West never seems to learn; playing favourites in a
complicated nation's politics always backfires.
Imposing Benazir on Pakistan is the opposite of democratic and doubtless will
cause more chaos in an already unstable country.
Make no mistake, Benazir may look the part, but she's as ruthless and conniving
as they come--a kleptocrat in a Hermes headscarf.