Pakistan v. Pakistan: On Anatol Lieven
Post-Bhutto, Lieven leads the reader through a lineup of the usual suspects: the military; Benazir Bhutto, who became the head of her father’s PPP in 1984, presided over two governments and was assassinated in 2007; and Nawaz Sharif, twice prime minister and the leader of the Punjabi-based Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML(N), the second-largest national party in the country. Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz own the Ittefaq group, one of Pakistan’s largest and most prominent business conglomerates, whose large industrial portfolio includes steel and textile mills. Lieven is circumspect in his accounts of them all. He is not seduced by the glamour and “like us”–ness of Benazir Bhutto, who was educated at Harvard and Oxford and spoke English with a cut-glass accent. Correctly, he criticizes Benazir for making vain concessions to Islamists in a desperate attempt to mollify Islamic parties, which at the time—in the mid-1990s (and, as Lieven notes, until 9/11)—were woefully unpopular. Bhutto set in motion the appeasement process with Islamist groups by granting the administration of the Malakand region the right to incorporate Sharia law into its justice process; she also recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Lieven suggests that she was carrying on a family tradition. Her father, a secular politician, banned alcohol and gambling in Pakistan to appease Islamists.
When it comes to the ethnic Muhajir Muttahida Quami Mahaz (MQM) party, whose hypervigilant cadres, tireless press offices and technological expertise arguably have made it Pakistan’s best-organized party, Lieven is careful to contrast its well-groomed image of being Pakistan’s only so-called secular party with its violent and thuggish past. Based in Karachi, the party “built up a powerful armed wing” in the 1980s that targeted militants from other parties and “journalists and others who dared to criticize the MQM in public,” Lieven writes. “Torture chambers were established for the interrogation of captured enemies.” Nor does he mince his words when it comes to Pakistan’s current president, Benazir Bhutto’s merry widower, Asif Zardari, under whose leadership the PPP has enjoyed many new sobriquets, the Permanent Plunder Party being the best of them.
The PPP’s assertion that it is a party of the poor and powerless is contradicted not only by evidence of its orgiastic corruption over the past twenty years (John Burns of the New York Times wrote the seminal condemnation of the first couple’s venality in 1998) but also by the high-level federal ministers and politicians from its ranks whose hands have been dirtied in honor-killing cases. The cases Lieven describes are infamous in Pakistan but rarely discussed outside the country, which is perhaps understandable considering how deeply the United States and Britain are invested in maintaining the power and stability of the ruling party.
In a case from 2008, three teenage girls from Baluchistan were sentenced to death by a tribal jirga for trying to marry men of their own choosing. Two female relatives of the girls tried to intercede and were shot. The three girls were shot and buried while still alive. Sardar Israrullah Zehri, a local chieftain and senator with the PPP, sided with the girls’ killers: “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them.” As a reward for his candor, Zehri was appointed minister of posts. In another case, Abid Husain Jatoi, also a local chieftain, presided over a jirga that condemned to death a girl from the Jatoi tribe who had eloped with a boy from another tribe. For this verdict Jatoi was appointed provincial minister of fisheries and livestock. (The regional high court ended up interceding to protect the couple.) In a third case, the PPP’s federal education minister, Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, was charged by the country’s Supreme Court for his role in settling a dispute between two families by ordering a marriage swap—the guilty family had to hand over five girls to the aggrieved family. The eldest of the girls was 6; the youngest was 2. None of these politicians, all of whom hold senior government posts, have been expelled from the PPP or reprimanded in any way.
Lieven criticizes the Sharif clan and its PML(N) for their Punjabi chauvinism, a criticism much made in Pakistan but less so in the West, where the main worry about the Sharifs is their affection for the Saudis. In March 2010, Shahbaz Sharif, the province’s chief minister and the brains behind the Sharif operations, publicly beseeched the Taliban not to attack Punjab. The rest of Pakistan was fair game, he offered, but because the PML(N) opposed many of General Musharraf’s policies (while remaining schtum on the “war on terror”), and could therefore be seen as “fighting for the same cause” as the Taliban, Punjab should be treated as an ally of the Taliban. (When Senator John Kerry came to Pakistan in February to lobby for the release of Raymond Davis, the CIA operative who shot two Pakistanis in the middle of Lahore, he met Shahbaz Sharif’s brother. Nawaz Sharif greeted his guest as “Senator Kerry Lugar,” confusing the senator with the bill passed in 2009 that directs billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. Sharif did not call him “Senator Kerry Lugar Bill.” One should be thankful for small graces, I suppose.) The charge sheet that Lieven compiles on the Sharifs, who came to prominence under the mentorship of Pakistan’s fundamentalist dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who ruled from 1977 to 1988, resembles the one he pins on Benazir Bhutto: encouraging monumental graft, presiding over killings carried out by the state’s security agencies, packing courts and sacking judges who don’t toe the party line, and acquiescing to Islamist parties and their demands.
The only public figure who impressed Lieven during the eight years he spent reporting and researching his book is the police surgeon of Baluchistan, a 58-year-old Pathan grandmother named Shamim Gul. Gul travels around Baluchistan at night without a police escort, exhuming rotting corpses from ditches and examining them in ad hoc morgues. In a province like Baluchistan, where extrajudicial killings are common, the dead are left unreported, their missing corpses warnings to the living. (It was Gul who discovered the bodies of the three girls sentenced to death by tribal jirga in 2008.) That Lieven does not focus more on Pakistanis like Gul, a citizen who manages to survive with a pronounced sense of dignity and justice, suggests that he is interested only in looking at Pakistan as a hard country.