Bhutto: the new Chalabi

Bhutto: the new Chalabi

By projecting Benazir Bhutto as the future saviour of crisis-ridden Pakistan, the Bush White House is repeating the blunder it made five years ago by presenting Ahmad Chalabi as the redeemer of post-Saddam Iraq.

There are uncanny parallels between Bhutto and Chalabi. The elements that helped Chalabi to portray himself – and be accepted – as the poster boy of the Bush administration are the same that have turned Bhutto into an indispensable ingredient to transform Pakistan”s embarrassing dictatorship into a likable democracy … with her as the chief executive.

Ahmad Chalabi was born into an affluent household where the father was a banker to Iraq”s king Faisal II until the anti-royalist coup in 1958. The Chalabis fled. After university education in Beirut, Ahmad enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then obtained a doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Benazir – daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a landlord owning 12,000 acres of fertile agricultural land in Pakistan – was brought up by an English governess. After an undergraduate degree from Oxford University, she did her postgraduate studies at Harvard University.

That explains the fluency in English that both Chalabi and Bhutto possess – a basic requirement for gaining popularity among the movers and shakers of Washington, DC.

Along with this skill goes the ability to tease out what the politicians in power want to hear, and express it simply and eloquently.

Chalabi was foremost in assuring George Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Iraqi people were inherently democratic and secular, and that they would welcome the American troops with sweets and flowers. He offered no hard evidence to support his claims, and nobody from the Bush team demanded it.

During her several trips to the United States, the silver-tongued Bhutto has convinced the Bush team that she was the one with the popularity and political skills to pull Pakistan back from the encroaching anarchy. This continues.

In an,,2208668,00.html”impromptu speech on Friday, Bhutto warned that Pakistan could turn into another Iraq. “We have seen what happens in Iraq,” she said. “There was a dictatorship, the people revolted, and there was a bloody end.” The people revolted in Iraq! Such make-believe analysis and interpretation is popular with the Bush White House.

By now, the Bush administration”s assumption that Bhutto is all set to become the democratically-elected prime minister has acquired an air of self-evident truth.

Reality is something else. Though Bhutto”s Pakistan People”s Party (PPP) is the largest, polls suggest that it will not secure more than 30% of the vote. The most likely scenario is a coalition government of the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), if the latter decides to contest the general election.

While she declared on Tuesday that “I will not serve as prime minister as long as Musharraf is president”, President Musharraf pointed out a legal fact: “Constitutionally, she has been prime minister twice,” he said. “She is not constitutionally allowed [to become prime minister for the third time].”

There is still another element in their biographies that Bhutto and Chalabi share. Both face allegations of corruption.

After teaching maths at the American University in Beirut, Chalabi moved to Amman in 1977. He set up Petra Bank, which within a decade became the third largest in Jordan. In 1989, it was seized by the Central Bank due to shady foreign exchange dealings. He fled to Damascus and then to London. In 1992, the State Security Court in Amman convicted him in absentia and sentenced him to a 22-year jail term.

Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari faced eight charges of taking tens of million of dollars in illegal kickbacks during her two years in office in the 1990s. These charges remain suspended because of Musharraf”s National Reconciliation Ordinance. It gave amnesty to all those charged with corruption during the 1990s. But there is an active case against Bhutto in Geneva regarding illegal kickbacks deposited into a Swiss Bank. Another case involving allegations of unlawful kickbacks from two Swiss companies is moving toward a trial in Geneva. There is also a criminal investigation into alleged money laundering in progress in Spain. Both Bhutto and Chalabi have denied wrongdoing.

It seems the old adage, “Once bitten, twice shy” does not apply to the Bush White House