Bhutto and Corruption

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Several smart correspondents have made the point that one of the other oddities of western press coverage of Benazir Bhutto is that you tend not to hear about how she's a huge crook. Corruption in a middle-income country, of course, is nothing new and Pakistan in general is not a paragon of good governance. Still, the best of my knowledge Bhutto and her husband stand out as unusually corrupt by Pakistani standards, which is precisely how she wound up ejected from power.

The Bhuttos, naturally, claim that all of this is politically motivated, but if you look at John Burns' account from early 1998 when the investigations were going down you can see that it's grounded in some pretty solid evidence and involves lots of European banks and corporation that are hardly going to be under the control of her political rivals in Pakistan. And we're not talking small change here, either, this one scam seems to have netted tens of millions of dollars. Back in the late 1990s, she even had Swiss authorities looking to get her indicted which, again, seems like a beyond-the-ordinary level of corruption rather than domestic political gambits. That's not to deny that she has a real constituency in the country, but Pakistani politics shouldn't be reduced to Bhutto versus Musharraf as there's more forces in play than just that:

Sharif urged the West to abandon Musharraf but also ruled out teaming up with Benazir Bhutto, another key opposition leader, unless she cut off talks with Musharraf. Sharif told The Associated Press that Pakistan was heading deeper into chaos and his archenemy had outlived his usefulness in fighting terrorism.

I'm not sure what the takeaway is here, but it's worth keeping in mind.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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