The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was the top news item on Polish TV this evening, as it probably was in many countries. Pakistan will get more unstable still as a result. But she was always a controversial figure – mainly due to allegations of corruption. One of her alleged scams involved Polish Ursus tractors...
In 2004, a Swiss court looking into alleged corruption deals by the Bhutto family during the 1990s concluded:
"Mrs Benazir Bhutto, the then prime minister, her husband, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, are suspected of having collected in the course of 90s corruption commissions on several government contracts concluded with foreign companies dealing with arms, agriculture material and merchandise inspection," the court orders said.
[…] The State vs Benazir Bhutto and nine others…suspected that the accused persons in connivance with each other indulged in acts of corruption and corrupt practices by purchasing 5,900 Russian and Polish made URSUS Tractors at a cost Rs150,000 each under the Awami Tractor Scheme (ATS) in violation of law, rules and regulations of the Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan, presently known as the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL).
Those kind of deals sound familiar to Poles. This summer the BBC reported that the evidence given by the Polish government contained details of bank transfers, and copies of fax communications between the Polish tractor company and middle-men helping to secure the contract.
Benazir had launched the Awami Tractor Scheme for the welfare of poor farmers in Pakistan and allegedly received 7.15 percent commission in the purchase of tractors through their front men – Jens Schlegelmilch and Didier Plantin of Dargal SA – who received about 1.969 million dollars for supplying the Ursus tractors.
The Bhutto family had their international assets and interests in the UK, US, Belgium, Switzerland, Pakistan and elsewhere - conservative estimate 1.4 billion dollars - frozen in 1997.
The charges by the Pakistan government were dropped to enable her return – the families’ assets were also released, plus interest. With values of property growing massively over the years, the family fortune was spilling over.
The Bhutto family – her father was hung for conspiracy to murder charges in 1979 – has always claimed that the charges were trumpted up and political in nature.
The Bhutto family regards itself as socialist, so the corruption scandals hang over the dynasty and how people will remember her and her father.
I don’t think she was assassinated for anything to do with Polish tractors, however. She was a secular politician in a country where religious extremism is growing – particularly since the region was further destabilized after the invasion of Afghanistan.
She was also a woman. She got away with being a female prime minister twice – but you can’t get away with that anymore, as secular, if not sometimes democratic - governments in Muslim countries tumble – or are overthrown by outside intervention.
The future for Pakistan looks pretty grim. It was only a few months ago the Polish Consulate General in Kurachi was telling an audience:
In Poland we highly appreciate Pakistan's continuity of its economic growth, fast economic development, the structural and comprehensive reforms in various sectors. Pakistan at present stands among the top 4 Asian countries. All economic indicators point to the fact that Pakistan will sustain acceleration in the growth of 6-8% over the next 5 to 10 years. As such investors should look to Pakistan as a potential hub of economic activity in the region.
Pakistan is about to become ‘a hub’, but not for the economy.