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Price For Democracy: Bhutto, Pakistan, New Zealand

Price for democracy

By Sangeeta Anand

In death she shall live. At least that seems to be the only consolation to 5000-strong Pakistani community living in New Zealand, following Benazir Bhutto's death.

Emotions run amok - shock, disbelief, dismay, anger, frustration and sadness. But the feeling of concern soon takes over - how safe are our families and friends back home in Pakistan, what happens next, will democracy ever return? All that they know at this stage is, Benazir's death does not augur well for democracy and peace in general and Pakistan's political stability in particular.

Though the sudden drop in share prices in many markets globally can be partly described as a knee-jerk reaction, its widespread impact even in remote markets like New Zealand, is a reminder of how intertwined and vulnerable economies around the world are. Even the political ramifications are feared to affect the forthcoming US elections, security in the Indian sub-continent and the most of the western world.

Ms Bhutto's assassination has dramatically changed the mood in Pakistan. Other opposition parties in Pakistan have threatened to boycott elections. President Parvez Musharraf, who has survived many assassination attempts himself, seems to have found little success in combating terrorism and internal strife.

Which is also why Ms Bhutto's supporters were so eccentric about her return to Pakistan. The leader of Pakistan People's Party had shown a ray of hope to her people who were excited about the forthcoming elections scheduled for 8 January. She was by far the most courageous (foolhardy to some) political leader this year - returning to her homeland for the sake of democracy - well aware of the threat to her life. An attempt to kill her on the very first day of her campaigning did not deter her. It probably made her more determined.

With her death, a dynamic political career came to an end. A nation lost a leader with courage. The Oxford- and Harvard-trained Bhutto became the first woman prime minister of Pakistan, or of any Islamic state for that matter, at the age of 35. Her outspoken and bold character attracted criticism and envy from the moderate Pakistani society.

The neighbouring countries, especially India, had pinned high hopes on the upcoming elections in Pakistan. Instability in Pakistan is likely to affect not only the local economy, but also restrict foreign investment in the already-backward region.

The hope of democracy in Pakistan had the potential to improve Indo-Pakistan relationship, a key factor for the region's stability, which has been under stress since the formation of Pakistan in 1947. The assassination may also affect the trade links between the two countries, and will further slow down the economic growth of Pakistan.

Closer home, New Zealand's exports trade with Pakistan is $76 million and imports $57 million, and has potential to grow. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise took an Information and Communications Technology Mission to Pakistan in 2005 to explore opportunities in the telecommunications, broadcasting, and banking sectors. The political instability following Bhutto's assassination is likely to be a major setback for this trade. Prime Minister Helen Clark, like her counterparts, has already issued travel warning for New Zealanders. The attack is likely to reduce New Zealanders' confidence in travelling to Pakistan.

And it's not just trade that will have an impact. New Zealand's political ties with Pakistan have been minimal and the current environment does not seem to support any improvement in the immediate future. As part of the Commonwealth, New Zealand supported the Commonwealth decision to suspend Pakistan from the Commonwealth until democracy was restored. Pakistan was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 2004.

Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf's visit to New Zealand in 2005 did not help much in improving the relations.

It is cricket that has been the saving grace in boosting that confidence. In 2002, New Zealand cricket team had to cut short its tour of Pakistan following a bomb blast in the Karachi hotel where the team was staying.

As the emotions in Pakistan subside, world will be closely watching the political developments. Elections look unlikely to go ahead as scheduled. Pakistan's immediate priority after security will be to bring some order in the chaos, to be able to prepare the nation for elections.

The judiciary needs to be restored; and a consensus government needs to be formed to be able to hold free and fair elections. Next few weeks are critical not just for Pakistan but for the rest of the world.

After all, global peace depends on it!

(Sangeeta Anand is the publisher of The Global Indian magazine, an Auckland-based ethnic publication. Visit: www.theglobalindian.co.nz )

ENDS

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