Saturday, April 02, 2005

The antithesis to Samuel P Huntington

As the first lady to be elected to head an Islamic state in 1988 and having been groomed at the University of Oxford, Benazir Bhutto stands as a classic antithesis to Samuel Huntington’s much-propped theory of Islam being incompatible with the west and democracy. “But unfortunately the Cold War created alliances with dictators that allowed them to use religion as a tool to oppress and suppress women, the minorities and political dissent,” she said in an interview to Hindustan Times on Saturday.

Bhutto, who is currently under a self-imposed exile in Dubai after her government was dismissed in 1996 for alleged graft and misrule, acknowledged that she is a “privately religious person” but that the “state should not interfere with the religious values of an individual”. “Islam stands for emancipation from bondage and I am happy to see that the struggle to establish the rule of law is finally succeeding,” she added, citing the recent elections in Iraq and the “Cedar Revolution” in Beirut where Lebanese people voiced their dissent against the continued presence of Syrian troops in their country.

Rights are never given, she maintained, but achieved. Not surprisingly, Bhutto has been critical of the way the junta has handled Pakistan. “The political system put in place by the military establishment has failed to address the reform issue,” she said, referring to Mukhtar Mai who was raped in 2002, allegedly on the orders of a tribal council as retribution for a crime attributed to her brother.

The four people accused of the crime were acquitted on March 15 this year, stunning human rights groups and sparking country-wide protests. Following a national and international media outcry, the two were rearrested after a public order from the Shaukat Aziz, Pakistan’s PM. “Does that mean the rapists would be freed once again when international attention fades away from the case,” she asked.

Having spent time at City Palace and with Gayatri Devi on Saturday, Bhutto remarked that Jaipur resembles “interior Sindh”. “Somehow the sand, the buildings, the roads here remind me of Sindh,” she said, calling for greater transport links between Rajasthan and Sindh, which, she informed, has a significant number of Hindu temples. “People from India should be able to travel to them or the churches and gurudwaras in Punjab,” the premier added.

Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, returns to Pakistan on April 16, after being freed in December last year from his eight-year incarceration, to cheer up the PPP workers and to lobby for general elections to be held in 2005. Despite increased contact with Musharraf and his establishment, Bhutto said the idea of working under or with him was still a “speculation”. “I haven’t thought about it but what I can say is that I am a democrat, that I am a believer in democracy and that I believe in the supremacy of the will of the people,” she said.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times


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