Pakistan's Problems

November 20, 1992

Benazir Bhutto is not the Pakistani government's biggest problem, but its best-known. Since President Ghulam Ishaq Khan with questionable constitutionality dismissed her from the prime ministry in 1990, the conditions he cited as justification have grown worse.

The rampant criminality in Sindh province in the south threatens to break down society and scare off foreign capital. The corruption attributed to her husband's family can't compare with the larger sell-offs of state enterprises by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family.

The Islamic fundamentalism that the former military dictatorship encouraged, in part to thwart her, now grips much of the country in a reign of terror. In an issue yet to be resolved, the fundamentalists demand an end to interest rate banking, which is essential for the investments in the Pakistan economy that Mr. Sharif seeks.

The Indus River floods two months ago, which killed at least 2,000 people and destroyed most of the cotton crop, washed away Mr. Sharif's reputation in his own Punjab. The countryside thought he doomed villages to save cities.

These were the conditions of the country when Ms. Bhutto, her husband languishing for two years in jail on charges that have not been provable, fomented the mass demonstrations for which she has just been packed back to Karachi and banned from the north.

Ms. Bhutto, who never recognized Mr. Khan's right to dismiss her, now demands he do the same to Mr. Sharif on the same grounds. There is something to her argument. She seeks new elections. Mr. Sharif has lost popularity since winning in 1990. In fairness to his government, which broke up her demonstration, it was not a mere protest but an attempt to overwhelm the regime with civil disobedience and occupy government buildings with people power. Almost any government would have defended itself the same way.

Ms. Bhutto's charismatic appeal and the Islamic fundamentalism that would deny her a leadership role are colliding. The alternative to both would be another military dictatorship, of which Pakistan has suffered more than its share.

If President Ishaq Khan and the generals who stand behind him could face up to the fact that Ms. Bhutto is not the problem, they would include her and her powerful public support in the solution. A coalition of responsible civilian and military power is needed to overcome chronic instability.

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