January 2008, Vol. 3, No. 1

After Benazir Bhutto

BhuttoTwo-time Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed during a rally in  Rawalpindi on December 27 spurring widespread unrest and uncertainty about Pakistan’s political future. Some, including Sen. Joe Biden, voiced concern that the Pakistani government did not provide Bhutto with adequate security. Musharraf placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Islamic militants. Meanwhile, Bhutto's 19-year old son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, was selected to replace his mother as chair of the Pakistan People's Party. This month's feature is a selection of articles that consider the assasination itself, as well as how Pakistan's political landscape has changed in its aftermath.

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In this Issue:

  1. Feature: After Benazir Bhutto

  2. Carnegie Analysis
    Perkovich on Pakistan's Nukes; Tellis on Bhutto's Assasination and U.S.-Pakistan relations; Kurlantzick on Pakistan's political future

  3. Views from South Asia:

    Foreign and Domestic Politics

    Indian Perspectives on Pakistan; Tackling Communal Violence in Orissa; The BJP’s Election Triumphs; The U.S. Presidential Campaign; Women’s Rights in India

    Economics and Energy
    Development in India; Sino-Indian Economic Ties; Tata’s Bold Moves

    Sharif and the Elections; The Investiation; Madrassa Reform; Feudalism in Pakistan; Swat’s Sad History; The Democratic Primaries

    The Year in Review; Economic Woes; The Anti-Corruption Drive

    The Federal Republic of Nepal; Maoists and the Nepali Army

    The Cease-Fire Agreement Comes to an End; India and Sri Lanka


Editor's Note

South Asian Perspectives is soliciting feedback from readers. Would you read a South Asian Perspectives blog, that’s updated four or five times a week to better track developments as they happen? Should we publish every other week rather than once a month? What are issues we’re not covering that you’d like more analysis of? Please let us know—email your comments to

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination prompted violence that led the government to postpone national elections until February 18. Bhutto’s death generated a flurry of speculation about the outcome of the election. Some commentators expect that Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, with her son and husband now at the helm, will ride to power on a wave of sympathy. Others predict victory for Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.  But Pakistani and international commentators agree that Bhutto’s tragic death is bad news for democracy and stability in Pakistan.

In Nepal, the interim parliament settled on a 23-point agreement that ends the political stalemate. The agreement declared Nepal a federal republic and abolished the monarchy, paving way for elections in April.

The cease fire in Sri Lanka was officially ended by the government a few days into the 2008, after months of bloody fighting.

Sam McCormally
Editor, South Asian Perspectives

BhuttoAfter Benazir Bhutto Benazir Bhutto
Ejaz Haider writes that Bhutto’s assassination benefits no political leader, civilian or military. “Turmoil suits extremist groups; the absence of Bhutto suits some political groups as well as some elements within the establishment. But unlike the extremist groups, those who are in this game to seek power must realise that some basic rules of the game are important all round — for themselves as well as the rivals.” (The Daily Times, December 28, 2007).

Benazir Bhutto’s greatest accomplishments were to retain the populist appeal of her father, but to move Pakistan towards economic liberalization and to soften its tone with India, notes an editorial. (The Daily Times, January 7, 2008).

Beena Sarwar details how the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) ended up with Benzair Bhutto’s 19 year old son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto as party chairman. Though some in civil society were hopeful that the PPP might democratize and hold intra-party elections, Sarwar notes that “satiating the desire to atone for the martyrdom cannot be underrated.” (Dawn, January 9, 2008).

Benazir Bhutto has been eulogized both as a corrupt feudal patron and as a pro-democratic westerner. Both are correct in part, write Razi U. Ahmed and Yaqoob K. Bangash. “She believed in democracy and its virtues for the oppressed and victimized,” they argue, but she was also, at once, a shrewd and charismatic participant in the patron-client relations that have characterized Pakistani society for generations.
(Dawn, January 8, 2008).

In the wake of Bhutto’s assassination, Musharraf pushed back parliamentary elections to February 18. The move was largely designed to impede the PPP from capitalizing on the sympathy generated in the wake of her death, suspects Hasan-Askari Risvi. (The Daily Times, January 6, 2008).  

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri untangles some of the knotty mysteries surrounding the assassination. Islamabad’s official line is that the attack was planned by Al Qaeda and executed by Taliban chieftan Baitullah Mehsud. But Chaudhuri thinks that’s the least likely explanation, and points fingers instead at the small but professional Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and at military hardliners. “Zia loyalists in the Pakistan military and the Punjabi establishment were the political group most opposed to Bhutto’s return.” (The Hindustan Times, January 2, 2008)

Noting that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced his party will not boycott the February 5 polls, The Hindu is optimistic: Bhutto’s murder “promises to provide a democratic and perhaps even bloodless way out of the deep crisis in which Pakistan finds itself,” they write. (The Hindu, January 1, 2008).  

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Carnegie Analysis

PerkovichGeorge Perkovich on Pakistan's Nukes
Carnegie Vice President for Studies George Perkovich appeared on NPR’s Day to Day to talk about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. “The military controls Pakistan. The thing the military cares most about is nuclear weapons so nuclear weapons are the most secure entity in Pakistan," Perkovich said. Click here to listen to the interview.

TellisCarnegie Commentary on Benazir Bhutto's Assasination
Ashley J. Tellis appeared on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight with Christine Fair to discuss the implications of the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Tellis said he hopes Pakistan holds elections as quickly as possible, but said that a free and fair election appears somewhat unlikely. "The problem though is that one of the principal parties in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto's people's party, is without a leader right now. Under these circumstances, whether you can have an election that represents the popular will is really an open question," he said. Read the transcript.

U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Assassination, Instability and the Future of U.S. Policy
Ashley J. Tellis also testified before the Middle East and Soth Asia Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 16, to discuss U.S.-Pakistan relations. Tellis urged the U.S. to shift it's relationship with Pakistsan "away from the transactional paradigm that Pakistan provides services because it is paid to provide services to something that resembles a transactional equilibrium where Pakistan provides services because it values its relationship with the United States." You can read the transcript of Tellis' remarks and watch a video of the tesimonty here.
video Read the transcript and watch the video of the testimony.

KurlantzickAt the Precipice
In an article for the New Republic, Carnegie Scholar Joshua Kurlantzick assesses the impact of Bhutto’s death on Pakistan’s political crisis. Musharraf, he speculates, stands to benefit the most. “[Bhutto’s] party could still win the upcoming election, riding a sympathy vote, but it is just as possible that her supporters will fragment without their leader, since Bhutto herself had worked to block rivals from amassing power bases within the party,” writes Kurlantzick. Read the article.
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Views from South Asia
INDIA - Foreign and Domestic Politics
Modi The Bharatiya Janata Party's Election Triumph
After Narendra Modi won re-election in a fierce contest in Gujarat, the Hindu nationalist party went on to win state elections in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. TheBharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) defeat of the Congress administrations in those states isn’t due solely to the party’s communal appeals, writes The Hindu; Congress is seen as “corrupt, inefficient, and lacking the political will to counter the adverse effects of price rise and anti-incumbency.” (The Hindu, December 29, 2007).

Modi’s victory demonstrates a larger trend in Indian politics, writes Prem Shanka Jha. State governments, including many BJP administrations, have been responsible for a tremendous amount of the economic development occurring in the South and West. The central government, with Congress at the helm, has merely approved of these projects from afar. “The sooner Congress apologists stop putting the blame for their defeat on Modi’s communal platform and admit that it is high growth and an efficient, relatively corruption-free administration that has brought him back to power, the more the nation will gain from what would otherwise have been a regrettable victory,” writes Jha. (The Hindustan Times, December 28, 2007).

The ten state elections in 2008 will likely set the terms of the debate for the Indian parliamentary elections set for June 2009. And, writes Liz Matthew, since the Congress now has bigger electoral fish to fry, “the government is also expected to put the India-US nuclear deal, which its Communist allies bitterly oppose, on the backburner.” (The New Kerala, January 4, 2007).

Indian Perspectives on Pakistan
In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and the threat of Pakistan descending into chaos, Vri Sanghvi notes how drastically India and Pakistan have diverged since partition. One reason: India’s nonalignment, and Pakistan’s cozy relationship with the U.S.  “There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the U.S. prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today. And look at America’s client states, writes Sanghvi. (The Hindustan Times, January 5, 2007).

C.  Raja Mohan argues that India’s past experience with Pakistan can be no guide for the future: “India has dealt with strong military dictators and vacillating civilian leaders in Pakistan. It has never faced a rudderless Pakistan that is in the danger of losing control to extremist forces.” (The Indian Express, December 28, 2007).

Tackling Communalism in Orissa
Anti-Christian communal violence sprang up in Orissa, where churches and Christian schools were destroyed. The Hindu fears the ruling parties may have a disincentive to act; “questions have been asked about the political will of the coalition government of the Biju Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party to tackle the recurrent communal mischief.” (The Hindu, December 31, 2007).

The U.S. Presidential Campaign
After Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses, some Indian commentators were singing his praises, hopeful that an Obama presidency might lead to a more multilateral American foreign policy. “I am in a crowded field of analysts, American as well as international, who have believed that the damage wrought by the Bush administration will take years and decades to undo. Not with Mr. Obama,” writes Ramesh Thakur, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo in Iowa. (The Hindu, January 10, 2008).

Others were skeptical that the presidential elections would lead to any fundamental shift in American foreign policy. “In reality, the change, when it comes, will at best be marginal,” writes Siddharth Varadarajan. (The Hindu, January 10, 2008).

Women's Rights in India
In the recent Global Gender Gap Report, India ranked 14 slots from the bottom; 114 out of 128 countries. T.K. Rajalakshmi unravels that ranking, noting women’s continued exploitation in the agricultural sector, and the increase in violent crimes against women in the past two decades. (Frontline, December 22, 2007).

Read the full report here.

Tata MotersTata Motors' Bold Moves
India’s Tata Motors made waves twice this month. First, Tata emerged this month as the lead bidder to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. And then, on January 10, it revealed the Nano, a car model that Tata hopes to sell for $2,500, less than half the price of the cheapest car on the market. It’s an impressive accomplishment, but some commentators expressed concerns: “The launch of the car will unleash an unprecedented demand for automobiles that will aggravate the already congested roads and environmental pollution,” warned The Times of India. (The Times of India, January 10, 2007).

But Gautam Chikermane resents the notion that poor Indians ought not have access to cheap personal transportation because of environmental damage caused by the rich: “It is the argument of the wealthy to keep their little spaces as exclusive as possible. It is the contention of the North against the South, the rich in South against their not-so-rich citizens,” he writes. (The Indian Express, January 11, 2007).

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INDIA - Economics and Energy

Development in India
P. Sainth parses the latest Human Development Index report, and laments that India’s tremendous economic growth has translated into higher income inequality, and not much higher human development. (The Hindu, December 24, 2007).

For more on the pattern of economic development in Asia, and the need for inclusive growth, see Michael Walton’s new report Poverty Reduction in the New Asia and Pacific. (Asian Development Bank, November 2007).

Sino-Indian Economic Ties
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao met recently to discuss further development of Sino-Indian economic ties. Singh was expected to “spell out his vision for the potentially formidable trade and investment relationship,” and to “emphasise the need to develop a multi-faceted bilateral engagement, moving away from the uni-dimensional focus on the boundary dispute, writes Pallavi Aiyar. (The Hindu, January 10, 2008).

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SharifSharif and the Elections
Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), announced publicly that he would be open to a coalition with Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). That would be wise, writes the Daily Times, since it would avoid the conundrum faced by the last PPP government—a PPP government in the center, but the PML-N in charge of Punjab. (The Daily Times, January 2, 2008).

There were even meetings between Sharif and one of Musahrraf’s closest aids. The News suspected that Sharif’s party “may be more acceptable to the president and his team than a belligerent and openly hostile PPP,” and that a deal between Sharif’s PML-N and the President wasn’t out of the picture. (The News, January 15, 2008).

The Daily Times demanded that elections be held on January 8 as scheduled, despite the violence unleashed by Benazir Bhutto’s murder: “If he contributes to the postponement of elections, President Musharraf may cause the economy to suffer some more instability. (The Daily Times, January 2, 2008).

The Investigation
Between washing the crime scene with water within minutes of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and claiming she was killed by the lever on her sunroof, the Pakistani government’s response to the murder left much to be desired. “The government story lacked credibility and consistency, and did not inspire confidence in its ability to hold a fair investigation,” writes Shamshad Ahmad. The writer called for “an independent commission comprising non-governmental and non-partisan persons of repute and stature with legal and investigative backgrounds,” with the freedom to “co-opt any foreign investigative or forensic experts to assist them.” (Dawn, January 5, 2008).

Madrassa Reform
An editorial in the Daily Times parses some complicated survey results produced by the U.S. Institute for Peace: 64 per cent of Pakistani’s surveyed wanted reform of the madrassas, and two-thirds say they see Al Qaeda as a threat. But a majority would prefer to live in an Islamic state under Sharia. The editorial board has a potential explanation; Pakistanis “don’t want the Islam spread by the madrassas and they don’t want the version being enforced under duress by the Taliban and their patron, Al Qaeda.” (The Daily Times, January 1, 2008).

Feudalism in Pakistan
"To address the problem of provincial discontent and recurrent fears of succession, the state has time and again found it more convenient to offer incentives to provincial elites in exchange for political stability,” writes Syed Mohammad Ali. But by paying off regional elites, the Pakistani government has helped entrench feudal social structures. Such structures don’t bode well for the upcoming elections, writes Ali. (The Daily Times, January 1, 2008). 

Swat's Tragic History
The Swat valley in Pakistan has been a place of recurring skirmishes between Islamic militants and the Pakistani army. It hasn’t always been this way, writes Asim Effendi; by the late 1960’s, Swat appeared to be a poster-child for successful economic development, and was a favorite spot for tourists.  But since the anti-Soviet jihad, Swat has been used as a recruiting ground for religious violence. (Dawn, January 8, 2008).

The U.S. Presidential Campaign
Pakistanis are watching the American presidential campaign for signs of how U.S. policy towards Pakistan might change. Huma Yusuf takes issue with some of the more sensational comments made by presidential hopefuls—unilateral military intervention, for example—but adds, “Parsing through the different stances yields a vast middle ground in which US aid and intervention could help bolster democratic reform and undermine the threat posed by terrorism while respecting national sovereignty.” (The News,  January 12, 2008).  

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RiceYear in Review
Zayadul Ahsan and Shakhawat Liton assess Bangladesh’s caretaker government on it’s first anniversary—from the massive anti-corruption campaign, to reform of the political parties, to hurricane Sidr, to the government’s inability to deal with rampant inflation. “Confidence in the caretaker government seem to be reducing while the country's economy is experiencing recession,” they write. (The Daily Star, January 1, 2008).

“Our economy is also stagnating because of this military-controlled government’s arbitrary actions with regard to its anti-corruption drive and as a result of the state of emergency that is being perpetuated by this government,” write the editorial board of The New Age. (The New Age, December 24, 2007).

Economic Woes
The New Nation
reports that foreign investment in Bangladesh in the first quarter of the 2007-2008 fiscal year was down 69 per cent from the same period in 2006-2007. (The New Nation, January 5, 2008).

In another editorial, The New Age blames the high unemployment and high inflation for an upshot in violence and unrest on the streets of Dhaka. (The New Age, December 25, 2008).

One effect of the economic stagnation has been a sharp increase in the price of rice. On January 8, after weeks of claiming that the price hike was beyond their control, the Bangladeshi government began importing rice from India to sell at a predetermined rate on January 8, according to a piece in the Daily Star. The price hikes were spurred on by the destruction of crops during hurricane Sidr. (The Daily Times, January 9, 2008).

The Anti-Corruption Drive
Corruption among elected officials is a serious problem in Bangladesh, writes Fazle Rashi, but the anti-graft drive has acquired “a strong political stench and is laced with rivalry and animosity.”(The New Age, December 26, 2007).

The editorial board of The Daily Star, on the other hand thinks corruption is an issue which warrants all the attention it can get: one editorial praises the insertion of “chapters on the vice of corruption and how to combat it” in primary and secondary school textbooks. (The Daily Star, December 29, 2007).

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PrachandaThe Federal Republic of Nepal
The Nepali Times
called 2007 “the lost year” as the Nepali peace process stalemate showed now signs of abatement. “We knew the peace process wouldn’t be easy,” they write, “but we grossly underestimated the incompetence, narrow-mindedness and self-centeredness of our top leaders.” (The Nepali Times, December 21, 2007).

And then, defying all expectations, the Constituent Assembly (CA), Nepal’s interim parliament, passed a 23-point agreement declaring the country a federal republic and abolishing the monarchy. In addition, the parties have agreed upon a mix of proportional representation and simple majority voting for the election, now set for April. The Hindu believes the CA has struck upon a winning formula: “The present agreement should also pave the way for an election to the Constituent Assembly that will see no interference from the King but will actively involve the Maoists.”(The Hindu, December 26, 2007).

The Nepali Times lamented that it took the CA all year to get back to where they stared. “The mixed election system has been slightly modified as a face-saving device for the Maoists, but the essence of the earlier arithmetic remains in place. The 23-point agreement is what is already in the interim constitution and in previous accords,” they write. “Essentially, it was never a problem between the leadership of the Maoists and the NC, it was a problem within their parties between the hardliners and moderates.”
(The Nepali Times, December 28, 2007).

S. Chandrasekharan gives an excellent overview of the Nepal elections, scheduled for April. (SAAG Note No. 415, January 16, 2008).

Maoists and the Nepali Army
With the promise of a civilian elected government come April, there remains one other major element of the peace process still unsettled; what should be done with the 31,000 members of the Maoist army? Maoist leaders have called for integration of Maoist combatants within the Nepali army. But, notes The Nepali Times, “Now that we are getting ready to vote out a monarchy that used to be the symbol of nationalism, it is even more important to have a de-politicised army that is above the fray.” (The Nepali Times, January 11, 2008).

Damakant Jayshi provides an excellent discussion of the Maoist integration controversy. (eKantipur, January 13, 2008).

Elections and the Economy
Nepal’s political stalemate has been disastrous for the economy, writes Raghab D Pant. Foreign investors and donors are taking a “wait-and-see” approach. Taxes collected have declined 41 per cent in the first  four months of the fiscal year, and inflation is rampant. (The Himalayan Times, January 3, 2008).

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Army The Cease-Fire Agreement Comes to an End
The government in Colombo decided to officially end the cease-fire agreement with Tamil rebels that went into effect in 2002. The agreement was a cease-fire on paper only, writes the Daily News: “It was just a matter of time. The mounting incidents of violence by the LTTE left the Government with no other alternative.” (The Daily News, January 4, 2008).

But the editorial board of The Sunday Times still worries about the repercussions of the government’s decision: ending the cease-fire “[gives] the LTTE a needless leg up on the one hand internationally and an open general licence to wreak havoc internally, on the other.” And many have doubts that the conflict has a military solution. (The Sunday Times, January 6, 2008).

India and Sri Lanka
In a two part analysis of Indo-Lankan relations, R Hariharan notes India’s unwillingness to became a major player in the Sri Lankan peace process. But, he adds, India nonetheless has an interest in a resolution to the conflict: “a peaceful, stable and prosperous Sri Lanka is an asset for India.” (The Daily Mirror, January 15, 2008 and The Daily Mirror, January 16, 2008 ).

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Editorial Staff

Sam McCormally, junior fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Ph: 202-939-2306

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