Pakistan and the PPP since the Fall of Benazir Bhutto



The relative failure of Benazir Bhutto's tenure in power is due not only to her blunders and those of her associates, but also to the obstruction created by powerful political forces reminiscent of the General Zia years and opposed to reforms. The appointment of a partisan interim government consisting of representatives of the anti-Bhutto coalition, the new government's and the President's eagerness to discredit the Pakistani People's Party (PPP) and Bhutto, violations of freedom of expression and the large number of prosecutions of Bhutto and her associates, have been deemed questionable manoeuvres by several independent analysts (Le Monde Diplomatique Oct. 1990; Far Eastern Economic Review 4 Oct. 1990a, b).


On 6 August 1990, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was dismissed by President Khan, who also announced the dissolution of the Federal Assembly and the provincial assemblies voted in at the November 1988 elections. At the same time, he declared a state of emergency throughout the country, citing "the threat of outside aggression and internal unrest as beyond the provincial governments' control." President Khan justified these measures by accusing the Bhutto government of corruption, abuse of power and the inability to end violence in Sindh province (The New York Times 7 Aug. 1990, A1; Le Monde 8 Aug. 1990). He also maintained that Bhutto had attempted to corrupt parliamentarians, ridicule the judicial system and impede the smooth operation of provincial governments (La Presse 7 Aug. 1990). These explanations hardly disguise the real reason for the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto. Most observers consider that by intervening constantly in army affairs, she underestimated the influence of an institution which tolerates democracy on condition that the civilian government does not interfere with its "vital interests" (Far Eastern Economic Review 4 Oct. 1990a, b; Le Monde 8 Aug. 1990, 11 Sept. 1990).

Benazir Bhutto's dismissal raised a storm of protests. On 14 August, thousands of demonstrators gathered at the mausoleum of Ali Jinnah in Karachi. Hundreds of police then charged supporters of Benazir Bhutto's PPP, leaving twenty injured, including three press photographers (Libération 15 Aug. 1990).

To replace Benazir Bhutto, President Khan appointed Ghulam Mustafa Jatoï, an opposition leader, to head an interim government composed mainly of members of the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA) coalition. In addition, he announced legislative elections for 24 October and elections for the four provincial parliaments three days later (The New York Times 7 Aug. 1990, A1; The Economist 13 Oct. 1990). President Khan intimated that the 24 October election should sanction the change of government ordered in August. The election campaign was marred by many irregularities.


3.1 Prosecution of Benazir Bhutto and PPP Supporters

Arrests and prosecutions began as soon as the interim government took office. On 12 August, the new government ordered the arrest of about ten of Bhutto's collaborators and militants. The PPP maintained that police visited the homes of fifty people. Most of those people, however, succeeded in escaping from the authorities (24 Oct. 1990). According to the daily Le Monde, a few of Bhutto's supporters were arrested at the time of the constitutional coup, but more arrests were made later. The author of the article estimates that 200 or even 300 people were arrested, most of them in Sindh province, the Bhutto family's fief (Le Monde 11 Sept. 1990). Amnesty International also received allegations that Bhutto supporters were tortured. By the end of October 1990, however, Amnesty International had not yet confirmed these allegations (Amnesty International 24 Oct. 1990).

The interim government set up eleven special tribunals to expedite the trials of Bhutto administration members accused of corruption or abuses of power. Six of these could disqualify elected officials from the political arena if found guilty of embezzlement. The other five could sentence any elected official to a maximum of ten years in prison (La Presse 25 Aug. 1990; La Presse 5 Sept. 1990). Several commentators consider that these tribunals were set up to discredit the Bhutto government. Despite demands by the PPP, no charge was laid against members of the IDA governments of Punjab or Baluchistan (Far Eastern Economic Review 4 Oct. 1990a, b).

By the end of August, the interim government had initiated four prosecutions against Benazir Bhutto (Le Monde 28 Aug. 1990). During the election campaign, observers seemed to agree that the attacks by the interim government and President Khan on Bhutto had in fact created a climate of sympathy for her, and that the PPP remained the most popular party in Pakistan (The Gazette 23 Oct. 1990; The New York Times 22 Oct. 1990). Bhutto's popularity led the interim government to increase pressure on the former Prime Minister and her entourage. In September, Asif Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's husband, was arrested and accused of plotting the abduction of a businessman (Libération 11 Oct. 1990). In the last week of the election campaign, the interim government laid three new charges of corruption against the former Prime Minister (The Globe and Mail 18 Oct. 1990; La Presse 24 Oct. 1990).

The interim government also initiated proceedings against certain Bhutto cabinet ministers. Le Monde reported that fourteen ministers had been charged (Le Monde 28 Aug. 1990). Other incidents of harassment were also reported. For example, a candidate for the People's Democratic Alliance (PDA), a coalition of parties supporting Benazir Bhutto's candidacy, was arrested because he refused to withdraw from the election campaign (La Presse 17 Oct. 1990).

On 28 August, President Khan issued a decree authorizing the establishment of new special tribunals in the districts of each province to try more quickly the "criminals" who had offended public morality or spread terror through the population (The Independent 30 Aug. 1990; La Presse 29 Aug. 1990). Thus, mere supporters of the PPP could be prosecuted (The Independent 30 Aug. 1990). It was in one of these tribunals, in fact, that charges were laid against Benazir Bhutto's husband (La Presse 11 Oct. 1990). Four attacks left at least twelve dead and over 60 injured in Punjab in the days that followed the order creating the new special tribunals. Authorities accused the PPP of being responsible for these attacks (La Presse 31 Aug. 1990, 2 Sept. 1990).

3.2               Violations of Freedom of Expression and Other Irregularities

The election campaign leading up to the 24 October elections took place in a tense atmosphere. The threat of a coup d'état before the elections, or in the event that Bhutto won at the polls, was often alluded to by observers (Far Eastern Economic Review 4 Oct. 1990a, b; The Economist 13 Oct. 1990). President Khan, with the tacit support of the military, was counting on an election victory by the IDA, a coalition headed by Nawaz Sharif. The verbal and judicial attacks on Benazir Bhutto and influential PPP members, and the use of the machinery of state to favour IDA candidates, were to ensure the election of candidates for that anti-Bhutto coalition (La Presse 5 Sept. 1990; Le Monde 11 Sept. 1990). Other commentators reported that public funds and the services of municipal officials and police were used to support the IDA's campaign, especially in Punjab province (The Independent 12 Sept. 1990; The New York Times 22 Oct. 1990).

Violations of freedom of expression were also reported during the campaign. Since national television is a state monopoly, the interim government formed by the IDA is said to have influenced the content of programming to favour the expression of anti-Bhutto sentiment. A few days before the vote, an Agence France Presse press release revealed that five IDA key figures were able to speak on television whereas such an opportunity was offered to only one PDA representative (La Presse 22 Oct. 1990). On 21 October, the Supreme Court of Lahore ordered national television to record and broadcast an interview with Bhutto (Ibid.). Furthermore, in a speech broadcast on national television the day before voting day, when the election campaign was officially closed, President Khan reiterated his attacks on Benazir Bhutto (La Presse 24 Oct. 1990).

The PPP succeeded, however, in holding large political rallies during the campaign, thus avoiding the authorities' injunctions. The last meeting of the PPP campaign at which Bhutto was to speak, scheduled for Lahore on 22 October, did not receive a go-ahead from authorities. Yet the IDA received permission to hold a political rally the same day in that city (La Presse 21 Oct. 1990). Bhutto and her supporters circumvented this pitfall by entering Lahore at the head of a convoy of trucks and buses. Sources indicate that 100,000 people were waiting for Bhutto, whereas the IDA leader, Nawaz Sharif, drew only 10,000 supporters (The Gazette 23 Oct. 1990; La Presse 23 Oct. 1990).

The election campaign was also marred by many acts of violence. A leader of the Sindh PPP and six of his friends were assassinated by a group of armed men in Sindh province (Libération 18 Sept. 1990). Moreover, foreign observers sent to Pakistan to supervise polling reported the murders "of a candidate, of militants and civilians, attacks on electors and election officials and several cases of abductions and sequestration of militants" (Le Monde 28-29 Oct. 1990).


The sweeping victory of the IDA in the elections of 24 and 27 October ushered in dark days for the opposition. No one expects an amnesty or a stay in proceedings against certain important PPP personalities (Libération 26 Oct. 1990). Moreover, some observers fear the new regime will use its position of strength to "rid itself once and for all of the Bhutto heritage" (La Presse 29 Oct. 1990). Hardliners in the IDA and the military will be tempted to banish several PPP members from the political arena and send Bhutto to prison (The New York Times 28 Oct. 1990). A "clean-up" campaign may already be in progress in the public administration sector. As soon as it took office, the interim government undertook to "reorganize" the secret services, replace officials in some nationalized enterprises - including national radio and television - and replace certain civil servants (The Financial Times 8 Aug. 1990; Le Monde 8 Aug. 1990).

In view of events which took place during the election campaign, it is uncertain whether the new government supported by the army and exercising virtually absolute control over political institutions, would be willing to tolerate an organized opposition and maintain the relative independence of the judicial system. Should such tolerance not be forthcoming, marginalized groups might resort to violence to promote their demands.


Amnesty International. 24 October 1990. "Arrests in Pakistan," fax message.

Amnesty International. (ASA 33/WU 04/90). 16 August 1990. "Pakistan : Amnesty International est préoccupé par les arrestations politiques."

Asiaweek [Hong Kong]. 17 August 1990. "The Fall of Benazir Bhutto," pp. 24-25.

The Economist [London]. 13 October 1990. "Shadow of a Doubt," pp. 34, 36.

Far Eastern Economic Review [Hong Kong]. 4 October 1990a. Ali, Salamat. "Selective Justice," pp. 30, 32.

Far Eastern Economic Review. 4 October 1990b. "Balance of Impotence," p. 34.

The Financial Times [London]. 8 August 1990. Housego, David. "New Pakistan Regime to Replace Financial Heads," p. 14.

The Gazette [Montréal]. 23 October 1990. Tierney, Ben. "Bhutto Ends Campaign With Tumultuous Rally in Foe's Home Region," p. A10.

The Globe and Mail [Toronto]. 18 October 1990. "Bhutto Charged Again," p. A6.

The Independent [London]. Rashid, Ahmed. 30 August 1990. "New Courts in Pakistan to Carry Out `Witch-Hunt'," p. 11.

The Independent. 12 September 1990. Rashid, Ahmed. "Bhutto Foes Splash Around," p. 13.

Libération [Paris]. 15 August 1990. "Pakistan : la chasse aux sorcières".

Libération. 18 September 1990. "Menace sur Benazir Bhutto."

Libération. 11 October 1990. "L'époux de Benazir Bhutto arrêté," p. 18.

Libération. 26 October 1990. Gene, J.-P. "La défaite contestée de Benazir," p. 22.

Le Monde [Paris]. 8 August 1990. De Beer, Patrice. "La saga des Bhutto," p. 6.

Le Monde. 28 August 1990. "Pakistan : Mme Bhutto bientôt traduite en justice."

Le Monde. 11 September 1990. Zecchini, Laurent. "Mme Bhutto traduite en justice," p. 8.

Le Monde. 28-29 October 1990. Zecchini, Laurent. "Les observateurs étrangers n'ont pas constaté de fraude massive lors du scrutin," p. 16.

Le Monde Diplomatique [Paris]. October 1990. Dastarac, A. and Levent, M. "Douteuses manoeuvres politiques au Pakistan," p. 11.

The New York Times. 7 August 1990. Crossette, Barbara. "Bhutto Is Dismissed in Pakistan After 20 Months," pp. A1, A11.

The New York Times. 22 October 1990. Crossette, Barbara. "Pakistani Election Race Looks Close," p. A11.

The New York Times. 28 October 1990. Crossette, Barbara. "Pakistani Election: Will the Result Be More Political Uncertainty," p. A3.

La Presse [Montréal]. 7 August 1990. "`Coup d'État constitutionnel' au Pakistan," p. B3.

La Presse. 13 August 1990. "Pakistan : nombreux partisans de Bhutto arrêtés," p. B3.

La Presse. 25 August 1990. "Pakistan. Tribunaux spéciaux," p. B7.

La Presse. 29 August 1990. "Nouveaux tribunaux au Pakistan," p. B6.

La Presse. 31 August 1990. "Douze morts dans des attentats à la bombe au Pakistan," p. C9.

La Presse. 2 September 1990. "Benazir Bhutto bientôt traduite en justice," p. B1.

La Presse. 5 September 1990. "La machine judiciaire contre Bhutto se met en marche," p. B4.

La Presse. 11 October 1990. "L'époux de Benazir Bhutto est arrêté," p. B12.

La Presse. 17 October 1990. "Bhutto : perquisition ratée, mari détenu et avocat agressé," p. C10.

La Presse. 21 October 1990. "Meeting interdit," p. B1.

La Presse. 22 October 1990. "Un tribunal d'exception se réserve le droit de disqualifier Benazir Bhutto si elle est réélue," p. B12.

La Presse. 23 October 1990. "Fin de campagne : 100,000 personnes acclament Benazir Bhutto," p. B11.

La Presse. 24 October 1990. "Une autre inculpation portée contre Benazir Bhutto à la veille du scrutin," p. E7.

La Presse. 29 October 1990. "Benazir Bhutto perd son dernier bastion," p. B5.

La Presse. 30 October 1990. "Des observateurs français parlent de fraude sophistiquée au Pakistan," p. E8.

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