Return of Benazir Bhutto

December 23, 1993

Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to head the government of a Muslim country, is also the fourth, returning to office in Pakistan where she was deposed in 1990. Turkey and Bangladesh adopted woman prime ministers in the interim.

She is the Pakistani politician who best communicates with the common people, many of whom revere her. She is the one who best communicates with the West, thanks to her Harvard and Oxford education. But she is the one who communicates worst with the army generals and religious mullahs, who may constitute the real, as opposed to apparent, government.

In the 20 months that Ms. Bhutto was prime minister from 1988 to 1990, she had little influence on nuclear weapons development, military policy and intelligence services. The generals never kept her informed. Conservative clergy railed against women governing.

Ms. Bhutto is traditionalist and modernist, aristocrat and radical, feudal magnate and Western intellectual, vengeful daughter of a slain autocrat and humble democrat. She was tossed out of office for corruption by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, as was her successor, Nawaz Sharif.

In the recent election, Ms. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party won 85 seats in the National Assembly against 72 for Mr. Sharif's Muslim League. She needed help from small parties and independents to win a majority of 121 in the 217-seat National Assembly. One good omen for her is that secular parties held their dominance and fundamentalist parties fared poorly.

Ms. Bhutto has fought valiantly for political rights. She intimidated the generals into granting a fair election. Quite what she means to do with power, if allowed to exercise it, is not clear. The best prime minister Pakistan ever had was Moeen Qureshi, who served as interim from April until October. He brought reforms, cut food subsidies and engineered $1.5 billion in new loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Bhutto has hinted at lifting austerity measures that hurt the ,, poor, which might put the loans in jeopardy. She wants to repair relations with the United States, which cut off aid over nuclear weapons development. Both she and the generals have learned lessons since she last assumed power. The combined national and provincial parliaments overwhelmingly elected Ms. Bhutto's leading ally, Farooq Leghari, to be president. For the moment, Pakistan's renewal of democracy is working.

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