January 04, 2008

Okay, not really. But this is a column about the joys of nepotism.

The Left-wing dictator I hated the least was Juan Peron, the Argentine strongman whose sartorial sense was as impeccable as his will to rule. Peron preened in front of the mirror for hours, and he looked as good in his waisted double-breasted suits as he did in his Prussian inspired uniforms.  In 1946 el Lider had installed his wife Evita as vice-president, and after reducing the legislature and the judiciary to rubber stamps, he became for all intended purposes a dictator.  But Evita never managed to succeed him.  She died of cancer in 1952, and Peron was overthrown by the military three years later, with the economy in shambles and civil unrest about to turn into civil war.  The old rogue made a comeback after 15 years of exile, and this time he arrived in Buenos Aires with a dancer, Isabelita, whom he proceeded to name vice-president quicker than you can say “nipote.”

The man in the white suit, or grim reaper,  skipped his wife but came for Juan—leaving Isabelita, an almost illiterate woman sophisticated only in nightclub chatter, president of Argentina. It was 1974. But she didn’t last long. Two years later the military once again intervened (the country was utterly in ruins) and this time, instead of exiling Peron, they jailed her for five years for having regularly raided the till.

As far as I know, Peron was the only president who tried to have his wife succeed him. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was thinking along the same lines as Peron where his ugly and fat wife was concerned, but they both met their maker in a hail of bullets just as 1989 was coming to a close.  Bill Clinton would have liked Hillary to succeed him, but the fact we are not as yet a banana republic impeded his plans. Kim Il Sung, needless to say, left the communist paradise that is North Korea to his ugly son Kim junior, and junior is still at the helm. Which brings me to Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan.

It seems extraordinary even in a Pakistani context, that the future of a modern political party is to be decided by the last wish of its murdered leader.  Political dynasties are, of course, not unknown in the West, what with our Adamses, Roosevelts,  and Bushes, and England’s Pitts and Asquiths,  but naming a 19-year-old who does not speak Urdu and was brought up in luxurious homes in Dubai, Sussex and the Upper East Side of Manhattan to lead a major party when and if he ever comes of age, is the kind of Ruritanian joke Hollywood used to make in the movies. Pakistan is one of the world’s most dangerous places. Its nuclear capabilities alone—plus the fact that Islamic fanatics have totally infiltrated both its intelligence services as well as its military—make it so. Musharraf is between a rock and a very hard place, yet he has done nothing to counteract the Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan which train so many of the insurgents fighting in Afghanistan. Benazir Bhutto may have been physically brave but she was a terrific political coward. She did absolutely nothing in her two terms in office for education, which in a country of 200 million of whom 60 per cent is illiterate borders on the criminal,  did not manage to pass a single major piece of legislation, and never even tried to repeal the heinous Hudood Ordinance, the law that makes no distinction between rape and adultery. But she did appease the mullahs and backed the Taliban.

This, then, is the woman who beyond the grave decreed the next PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) chairman. When Emperor Caligula appointed his favorite horse to the Roman Senate, wiser men assumed he had lost his senses. The PPP’s acceptance of the 19-year-old as their chairman proves that Pakistanis lost their senses long ago.


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