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Posted by on Nov 3, 2007 in At TMV | 0 comments

Bhutto Recrafts Her Image

It’s not exactly clear how she’s done it, but Benazir Bhutto has effectively recast herself as Pakistan’s “democratic savior.”

Interestingly, as The Hill reported not long ago, Bhutto has invested in a major PR campaign to give her image a makeover. To the tune of a quarter million dollars, she has hired the lobbying firm BKSH & Associates to obscure her poor record and build up her reputation as Pakistan’s leading democrat.

But Bhutto is no democratic savior. Her tenures in office were riddled by corruption and human rights abuses and her possible re-ascent to power promises more of the same. It’s no surprise, then, that Bhutto’s PR effort is in large part designed to cover up her miserable history.

The result of her efforts (which have primarily consisted of a positive media-blitz), unfortunately, is that many Americans have come to badly misunderstand the history and character of Pakistan’s two-time former prime minister. The responses to Bhutto’s recent article in the Huffington Post, “Why I’m returning to Pakistan,” exemplifies this. One commentor, whose view was by no means an anomaly, had this to say:

Ms Bhutto, I am in awe and respect of your convictions. Your deep devotion to your country is glaringly absent in the United States. Godspeed and all gods be with you on your journey.

Another respondent had a similar comment:

You will bring hope to your nation. God speed and best luck.

In fact, almost all of the comments praised Bhutto as some sort of democratic beacon. Nor has the American media (mostly out of laziness) helped to clarify the record. In many of the reports on Pakistan these days, there is a tacit acceptance of Bhutto’s new image. No quotes from Bhutto’s opponents are given, rarely are the long list of corruption charges detailed, and even more infrequently do we hear any account of her dismal relationship with human rights.

The laziness on the part of the American media, as well as the work of some skilled lobbyists and PR experts has resulted in a full image makeover for the former Pakistani prime minister here in the States. One student at Brown University wrote an op-ed for the university newspaper that hints at the success of Bhutto’s PR campaign:

…I am excited and optimistic to see Bhutto returning to the country to contest elections in January. Her success will require a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure from the international community, especially the United States (given its links to the power centers of Pakistan, including the military and intelligence), but democracy is now closer in Pakistan than it has been in many years.

With all respect to my colleague here at Brown, I think she may have overstated her case. Indeed, if history is a guide, Bhutto is far from a democratic savior. Her record, which includes two separate stints as prime minister, was marred by broad human rights abuses and efforts to personally enrich herself through high-level corruption. As Ali Eteraz notes, Bhutto has done her job well: “Most of the Western audience Bhutto has been targeting in her media blitz – a blitz that somehow panders equally well to the Western left-wing and right wing – is unaware of Bhutto’s vast legacy of mayhem, corruption, criminality, and violence.”

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