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Next Step : Bhutto Falls Short of Promise : Pakistan's premier gets a second chance. But social strife, corruption and in-fighting are flourishing.


A year ago this week, a young, well-born Ivy Leaguer who had been the first woman elected to govern a Muslim country took to the airwaves to vow that this time she would not disappoint the Pakistani people.

"Dear countrymen! The dark clouds besetting our democratic horizon have disappeared and given way to a new dawn," Benazir Bhutto declared. "By Allah's grace and your prayers, I have become the prime minister to serve the country."

It was Oct. 20, 1993, and an upset election victory and a craftily assembled parliamentary coalition had given Bhutto another chance at governing one of the Islamic world's most powerful yet troubled states.

Bhutto's first 20-month term, which ended in 1990 with her being removed for alleged incompetence and corruption, left many of her followers sadder but wiser.

But with a second chance, and victory in her country's freest elections in history, she told the nation: "With my mind's eye I envision a glorious future ahead of us."

The glamorous daughter of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the rural landlord who became the most popular premier in Pakistani history, still had the undisputed gift to inspire, to make the poor dream of a more decent life.

Twelve months have now passed in Pakistan--"the Land of the Pure"--and for many the clouds again have been replaced by a haze of gloom.

In the year of her second chance, Bhutto, now 41 and said by some Pakistani newspapers to to be expecting her fourth child, has managed to stave off frantic efforts to oust her by the man she defeated last October, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But in striving to reach the lofty goals she set herself and her Pakistan People's Party--"progress and prosperity" for all of Pakistan's 120 million people--she has fallen short.


Political gambits and in-fighting are eating up much of her government's time, the economy is idling, corruption is endemic, and social strife has become so widespread that, in a nation created as an Islamic homeland, Shiites and Sunnis are murdering one other.

"If you look at recent history, Pakistan has had seven prime ministers in eight years," Zaffar Abbas, Islamabad bureau chief for the Herald magazine, observed. "Completing one year in office with all the turmoil and everybody trying to bring down the government is an achievement in itself. Apart from that, it has been a disappointing story."

Disillusion has been all the greater this time because Bhutto was able to install a close ally, Farooq Leghari, as president, and the once-hostile army has seemed to remain neutral under its current chief, Gen. Abdul Waheed.

Some analysts ask if Bhutto, the Harvard and Oxford grad who shouldered the populist mantle of her father following his execution in 1979, has concluded some sort of Faustian bargain. In exchange for political survival, they wonder, has she relinquished her oft-proclaimed goals: radical reform of society, protection of women's rights and the fostering of a modern, prosperous nation united by a staunch but tolerant belief in Islam?

Not at all, asserts Bhutto.

"We are committed to an agenda for change," she said in a recent speech.

"She has completely set aside her party's ideals," Abbas said in disagreement. " 'For the time being,' her supporters say. But as of today, she has set them aside. She has done these things to guarantee her survival at the cost of ignoring the party ideals."

Foreign economists and bankers applaud the tough, often unpopular measures she has undertaken to make Pakistan's government live within its means and to privatize key sectors like energy and telecommunications.

Bhutto has cut the once-ballooning budget deficit from 8% to 5.8% of gross domestic product. Currency reserves have increased from a meager $200 million in June, 1993, to a staggering $3 billion.


Her government has announced plans to sell off 49% of state-owned oil and gas enterprises within a year, and raised at least $860 million last month through privatization of the telephone company.

For the average Pakistani, who Bhutto's father courted with Huey Long-like visions of "bread, a roof and clothing," such numbers matter not at all, of course.

Disgruntled consumers and shopkeepers can cite other figures: a 20% price hike on wheat as of last April, or new sales taxes. Inflation, the Bhutto government's No. 1 economic priority, is still averaging an official 11.5%, while economic growth last year was only 4% against a targeted 7.9%.

But Bhutto loyalists say the government's strategy, including innovative policies designed to entice foreign investment to revitalize the laggard energy and petroleum sectors, make them bullish about the remainder of the prime minister's five-year term.

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