Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated

Benazir Bhutto, former and possible future Prime-Minister of Pakistan, was gunned-down this morning as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi, dying shortly thereafter. The assassin then blew himself up. At least 20 other persons were killed.
Mrs. Bhutto's enemies were legion, and her assassination cannot be said to be unexpected. The Taliban and Al Qaeda vowed to kill her, and tried to do so the very night she returned to Pakistan in October. Mrs. Bhutto dodged that attempt, but 140 other bystanders didn't. Under the circumstances, it appears that the Pakistani authorities would have done better to deport Mrs. Bhutto immediately upon her arrival in Pakistan.
The media and the politicians are going to - are already -- telling us that Mrs. Bhutto's murder is a grave blow to Pakistani democracy. This is arrant nonsense, although what we might expect of people who live in functioning democracies where it is usually possible to go to the polling place without shots or violence. There's no such thing as Pakistani democracy: Mrs. Bhutto's untimely death simply makes it impossible for the Pakistanis to go through the motions of sham democracy without the risk of mass violence and the complete breakdown of public order. Wretchard at Belmont Club says it best:

The effect of political assassination is to restrict effective political discourse to argument by high explosive or supersonic lead projectiles. Political murder kills not only the candidates, but the process to which they belong. Pakistani politics might not miss Benazir Bhutto as an individual, but it will surely want for the elections in general.

Elections have rarely been able in and of themselves to bring about stable democratic rule. Normally things are the other way round. It is the existence of the elements of democracy that have brought elections into existence. Whether those elements now exist in Pakistan is the question. Rogers believed that until Pakistan had an educated citizenry, credible legal culture, a semblance of upright government and a degree of religious tolerance that any electoral process would be founded upon an insubstantial base.

It is mad to talk of republics without institutions, without order. Absent law and order, without the ability to hold a political rally without bomb-throwers and shots, promises of "elections" and happy-talk about "democracy" are not signs of liberty, but precursors to violence.
When the taxes are collected in an orderly manner; when the bureaucrats are more or less honest and obey their superiors; when the courts actually adjudicate disputes more or less regularly; when the army and police are competent and obedient instruments in the hands of the government; and, when the political class sees that the transfer of political power does not lead to political oblivion or physical death -- then it's possible to talk of democracy, or, more accurately, republican institutions. But absent these conditions, it's possible to have all the "elections" any do-gooder could want, and wind up with nothing more than democratically elected politicians serving as place-holders between one dictatorship and the next.
"Democracy" cannot be built on sand, or on an empty record. George Washington and the American founding fathers did not work in a vacuum: they had almost 150 years of colonial government to build on; a functioning political and economic oligarchy with a shared interest in order; plus hundreds of years of accumulated experience with British law.
Since independence, Pakistan has been a case study in efforts to build democracy without doing the homework. The present electoral cycle (parliamentary elections are scheduled for 8 January), looks like more of the same. Someday, it might actually work, but first, politicians must be able to attend political rallies without being accompanied by their household troops. Until Pakistan can work out for itself how to do this, Pakistanis can wish for all the reform and democracy all they like, but reality is likely to be more of Pervez Musharraf, or whichever general the troops obey this week.
ADDENDUM: Andrew C. McCarthy's piece "Benazir Bhutto: Killed by the Real Pakistan" over at National Review Online tells some unpleasant but real home-truths about Pakistan, and is worth your attention. I particularly like this part:
There is the Pakistan of our fantasy. The burgeoning democracy in whose vanguard are judges and lawyers and human rights activists using the “rule of law” as a cudgel to bring down a military junta. In the fantasy, Bhutto, an attractive, American-educated socialist whose prominent family made common cause with Soviets and whose tenures were rife with corruption, was somehow the second coming of James Madison.
I so wish I had written that. (Hat tip: In from the Cold).

2 comments:

louielouie said...

Whether those elements now exist in Pakistan is the question.

you have got to be kidding. wretchard said this.
is so, he must have been asleeep when he typed it.
this is not a question.
but it does remind me of the comment made in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
in order to win this war, we're going to kill 150 muslims and one dentist.
the query would follow about the dentist.
the reply would be "i told you no one would miss 150 million muslims".
as the populaiton of paky is approx 146 million, i know i wouldn't miss paky if it were gone.

El Jefe Maximo said...

I rather suspect Wretchard was indulging in a bit of understatement, as some of us tend to do from time to time. . .

To bastardize the late Judge James L. Petigru's comment on South Carolina -- Pakistan is too dangerous to be a republic, and too big to be a lunatic asylum. Unfortunately we're stuck with it, at least until and unless India becomes concerned that Pakistan is too dangerous to be put up with.