Benazir Bhutto appeared unstoppable as she prepared to take Pakistan to a new high and sweep 2008 polls. She sounded sincere, determined and passionate. We believed her. The country was ready to embrace her as its 3rd time prime minister. She arrived alone without her extra baggage- Asif Zardari. Islamabad’s foreign dignitaries flocked to confer with her, as did political heavyweights hoping to be a part of her government. Benazir’s dream died with her on December 27, 2007. Thus began Pakistan’s nightmare with Zardari ruling for the next five years.

Fled was the glory. Gone was the rapture Benazir sprinkled among the western powers hosting her on state visits. Imagine her descending the PIA plane with Bilawal in her arms on her first state visit to America in1989. The US media loved her for she was young, strikingly beautiful and articulate. Harvard welcomed her as its alumnus. The Los Angeles Times quoted the then editor of The Muslim Maleeha Lodhi saying: “To the American people, Benazir is a romantic figure. She is the political ‘Lady Di’ of Asia, a woman leader of an Islamic nation, and that paradox fascinates people in the West.” Despite the first couple’s scandals of corruption, nepotism and favouritism, PM Benazir became the darling of the western media. “She is the symbol of the moderate Islam, and that appeals at a time when the world is so concerned about fundamentalism,” said Maleeha Lodhi.

Today, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman, has seized the West by pledging a ‘moderate’ Saudi Arabia. Despite his ostentatious lifestyle and expensive tastes, western leaders, captains of industry, international investors both in the US and Europe lay out a red carpet treatment for the 32- year-old heir to the Saudi crown. “We want to live a normal life. A life in which our religion translates to tolerance, to our traditions of kindness,” he told international business leaders in Riyadh last year. “Seventy per cent of the Saudi population is under 30, and honestly we will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today and at once.” During his three-week trip to the US recently, MBS met film stars Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Dwayne Johnson at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s house. “He discussed space travel with Richard Branson in the California desert, philanthropy with Bill Gates and technology with Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest man) in Seattle. He visited Harvard and MIT, brokered arms deals with President Trump and sat down with Wall Street financiers. He even met with Oprah Winfrey,” reports The New York Times who carried full-paged coverage of his visit here in the US.
Had Benazir lived to become a 3rd time PM, she too would have forced world leaders to focus on an emergent Pakistan desirous of joining the comity of nations advocating peace and development. She too, like MBS, would have met important international players at home and abroad. Some sceptics may pour cold water over my thesis equating ‘poor’ Pakistan with Saudi Arabia, or drawing parallels between MBS and Benazir, but it’s the leaders who make a difference; it’s the leaders who steer their nations out of poverty and deprivation to prosperity by their sincerity and good faith. Pakistan has the misfortune of having thoroughly corrupt, inept and devious leaders like Zardari and Nawaz for decades. And the bad news is that these two men are not going anywhere in the near future. They are the puppet masters who will never lose control of the strings that they will pull from behind the curtain should one of their ilk make it to the PM House this summer.

Warns Army Chief General Bajwa: The [political] rot must stop! But how Sir? Have you a plan?

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2018.

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