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Mon. October 21, 2019
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IA-Forum Interview: Samina Yasmeen
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International Affairs Forum: Should the elections scheduled for Jan.8 have been postponed, and would it even have been possible to hold elections under current conditions? Samina Yasmeen: I think it's much better they are not held right now, for two reasons. One is that with all the destruction that has taken place in the last few days, it's really not possible for people to come out and feel that they'll be safe. The second reason is that there is a huge sympathy factor for Benazir Bhutto after what happened. What we could end up with is more of an artificial result where people might go for the Pakistan People's Party in memory of Benazir Bhutto, and not because they actually believe in it. My concern is also with the appointment of Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's husband, as the Co-chairman of the PPP. Given the allegations of corruption against him in the past, I would feel more comfortable if enough time had elapsed before elections were held. This would make it possible for people to really make up their mind and decide if they want a PPP with [her son] Bilawal as the young face and Zardari as the kind of acting chairperson. Or do they want something else. IA Forum: How long would be a reasonable time to delay elections? Yasmeen: I think the 40 days mourning period is quite reasonable. By then the Muharram Muslim New Year activities would have finished - and it might be a much better time to hold elections. It would give people time to settle down and find their feet again. If you look at Pakistan like a family, people have gone through a huge shock. I think it would be safer to wait. IA Forum: Were you surprised by the decision to name her 19 year old son, Bilawal, as the PPP's new leader? What do you make of this decision? Yasmeen: I'm not very pleased, because if we accept that Benazir Bhutto died for democracy, then you have to follow democratic principles. And those democratic principles do not involve dynastic rule. You could say that Bhutto herself was a product of dynastic rule, and that is quite a fair comment. But they appointed a 19 year old kid who hasn't even spent most of his life in Pakistan. Who is not in touch with ordinary people, who does not know what it means to not have food, who doesn't know what it means to live in poverty. Who really doesn't have the exposure to Pakistan to be the chairperson. My second problem, the more important one, is that Zardari has so many allegations against him. One may argue that they haven't been proven. But there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that things were not as clean as we'd like to think they were. So how do we know Zardari is not going to play the whole game to his own benefit. What happens to democracy then? Especially because within the PPP there are lots of people who are very good, who have done a lot of work, who have fought for democracy, who have been in jail like Aitzaz Ahsen, who have suffered. They should be the ones getting a chance. IA Forum: Just a couple of months ago there was a great deal of speculation that Bhutto might form an alliance with President Musharraf. Does her death effectively signal the end to any possibility of that happening? Yasmeen: We will have to see how it goes. I think at the moment the government is so paralyzed, It took them nearly a week to decide if the elections would be held on the 8th. It really means they don't know what's happening. So Musharraf might want to negotiate with parties. But I think we need to wait for at least a week before we start talking about that. IA Forum: Conspiracy theories already abound about Bhutto's assassination. How do you think the government has handled the whole situation? Yasmeen: It was not very well handled. Except the decision by the president to declare three days of mourning for the country. That was a good gesture. But anything other than that has been less than properly handled. Even for an ordinary crime scene, you don't just wash away the evidence so quickly, and then you don't change your assessments one after another and create more and more confusion. In that sense I think it would have been much better, probably, if the government had said that only once they knew for sure what happened would they issue a statement as to how she died. To have three different versions created more doubt and it made people wonder what is the real story. So even if there isn't a conspiracy, then people think there must be one. IA Forum: Clearly the nation is still traumatized by this assassination. But is there anything you've seen that gives you some cause for optimism that Pakistan will be able to recover properly from this and move forward? Yasmeen: I think one positive sign is that as soon as the killing took place there was a lot of reaction, but now people are just coming back to living something like a normal life. That makes me think there is enough resilience. And another thing is that Benazir Bhutto is suddenly being presented as the icon of the unity of Pakistan. May be there will be enough sense among people that they will say we have to work for that unity. So that is a positive sign. But it can only be an positive reality if people put some effort behind that. But if the politicians instead opportunistically try to make use of the logic of grief, then I think things will not turn out well. Prof. Samina Yasmeen is director of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia, Perth, where she teaches courses on Islam and international politics.

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