Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 28, 2007

Pakistan – Life after Benazir Bhutto

Those who play with fire know very well that at some point in time, they will be ‘scarred’ and hence fall a prey to their somewhat ‘passionate’ activity. No one knew this fact of life better than the late Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who succumbed to an assassin’s bullet on December 27, 2007. Ms. Bhutto had a history of living dangerously and perhaps pushed her luck a bit too far.

In the murky waters of Pakistan politics, Ms. Bhutto played with fire and stood up, for almost three decades, to various elements and role players that were an anti-thesis of the socialist/democratic roots of her background, education and the political party that she inherited from her father, the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Fighting one military regime after the other, and having been forced into exile on several occasions, this ‘Daughter of the East’ met her end in the most vicious and inhumane manner.

To say that it was all expected might not be untrue. Right from the day she came back from exile last October, someone, somewhere, was out to ‘get her’. Pakistan politics is a can of worms, the stakes are high, power is god, making aggressive political moves and scoring points is a sign of craftiness and intellect. Security of life is an unknown commodity. One lives there by the roll of the dice. Yes, the country is a gambler’s den! It’s a ‘glorified tribal area’. The powers that be rule with precision and incredible symmetry. No dissent is tolerated. Ms. Bhutto was a resistance – she had to exit the scene, sooner rather than later.

The lady leaves behind a rough legacy. Whereas she possessed all the charisma, the charms and the demeanors that made her the darling of the crowds, she couldn’t make it to the ‘major league’ on the two occasions that she was elected as the prime minister. Her tenures were sloppy and she handled power in a rather amateur manner.

Yes, she was a woman, and, yes, she was respected and recognized for her courage and bravery to lead a conservative Muslim nation, she lacked the enlightened tactfulness of a first-class head of government. She fell a victim of the shallowness of the political ethos and the restricted framework within which she was allowed to govern, thanks to certain constitutional amendments and the mistrust of the army generals in the political process.

Who killed Ms. Bhutto? It may be an ‘impossible adventure’ to provide a precise answer but she did have plenty of enemies! For one, the religious fanatics hated her. Taliban, al-Qaeda, the religious political outfits, all had a grudge against her. Although at one point, her government was instrumental in aiding the Afghan Taliban, she was seen as an enigma by the bearded and the turbaned. The very fact that she belonged to the ‘wrong gender’, her existence as a political leader was not acceptable.

One did come across reports that al-Qaeda had directly threatened her early this year if she dared to come back to Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban called for suicide bombings in a blatant manner to wipe her off the political spectrum.

The Bhuttos and the military Establishment had age-old issues. Ms. Bhutto’s father had ridiculed the Pakistani army publicly a number of times back in the 70s when things did not work out well in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Constitutionally, he reduced the armed forces to next to nothing and tried to make peace with archenemy India.

The Bhuttos are from down south, Sindh province. The Pakistani army is predominantly from northern provinces of Punjab and NWFP. Moreover, the army suspects the loyalties of the people of Sindh and considers them anti-federation/anti-state. The Bhuttos have always walked on thin ice when it comes to dealing with the men in uniform. Zulfiqar was ousted and eventually sentenced to death by a general, Zia-ul-Haq and Benazir was never let to settle down during her two stints as prime minister.

Ms. Bhutto was a high-maintenance phenomenon for the army, a ‘revolutionary’ who probably could turn into an uncontrollable menace if given a free hand. Due to this level of skepticism, it took a good two years for the Establishment to let President Musharraf ‘talk politics’ with Ms. Bhutto. Those talks culminated in some kind of an agreement, the contents of which were never made public, thereby paving the way for her comeback to Pakistan.

Granted that everything is up in the air as far as evidence (or lack of it) is concerned, and granted too that I am not trying to develop a thesis here, but I did come across a comment on the Times of London website from a reader that said, “I know its fashionable today to blame everything on al-Qaeda, however, in this (Ms. Bhutto’s assassination) I think President Musharraf and his regime had something to do with it…”

Could Musharraf have gotten Ms. Bhutto killed? Was she adding to his insecurities? Did he feel threatened by the prospect of her becoming the prime minister and, therefore, turn into a pain in the neck?

Musharraf is a lucky man. He was a diehard supporter of the jihadis not long ago. 9/11 resulted in a remarkable turnaround of fortunes for him. From an introvert despot, he got the opportunity to become a trusted ally of the most powerful and the most influential country in the world. He’s played his game well on the domestic front and bulldozed each and every roadblock in his way. Ms. Bhutto’s presence was perhaps a bitter pill to swallow and had she been elected as prime minister, maintaining authority and command respect may not have been possible for him or the military institutions including the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) anymore.

This does not, in any way, imply that Musharraf is the one to doubt. It may be fashionable to blame everything and anything on the fanatics these days, but it is reasonable to comprehend that the mullahs have an interest to destabilize Pakistan. They are, after all, against the country’s support in the war against terrorism.

Who killed Ms. Bhutto is an open-ended question to which we will probably never be able to find an answer. However, thinking in terms of the bigger picture, what now? Where do we go from here?

Let’s face it that Ms. Bhutto with all her flaws and faults was a national leader, if not a national hero. One can safely fear that in the coming few days and weeks there will be mass-scale civil unrest in Pakistan. Firstly, it would be appropriate to postpone the general elections due to be held on January 08, 2008. As it is, the credibility of the entire election process is being seen by all and sundry with a lot of suspicion. As a mark of respect for a national leader, it may not be a bad strategy to come up with a date anytime in the future.

Secondly, Ms. Bhutto’s party, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has a strong powerbase in interior Sindh. It remains to be seen if the Sindhi nationalist/separatist elements will join hands with the antagonized and outraged PPP leadership and create a situation whereby the very integration of Pakistan may be jeopardized. Sindh, for all intents and purposes, serves as the country’s ‘supply-line’. All major seaports are located in the province.

A lot of nightmarish possibilities come to one’s mind when one thinks about the enormous power of the crazy religious fundamentalists. 57 suicide bomb attacks, including the one in Ms. Bhutto’s rally on December 27, have taken place in almost 52 weeks of the year 2007. This works out to be more than one suicide attack per week.

There is constant strife in the northern areas. There appears to be lack of effort to curb the fundamentalist tendencies on the part of the state machinery.

Two things are possible in this regard:

  • One, that Musharraf and the military top brass don’t care and hence just likes to sit pretty, watching people dying, left, right and center. The quest is to preserve and prolong their own rule and that is about all they worry.
  • The other possibility is that the major role players are involved in this brutal exercise of fundamentalism. The money/arms and ammunition channeled to Pakistan to counter terrorism is perhaps being used to encourage militancy.

Many who care have suggested that the Western countries must check and watch carefully where the money is being spent and who uses the weapons. This is not to doubt the credentials or the sense of judgment of the donors/aid givers, but, knowing the Pakistan system and how the intelligence agencies operate, it is fair to say that if the money is going toward helping the crazies, it is high time that Islamabad should be checked with an iron hand.

It is sincerely hoped that, for once, the people of Pakistan realize that extremism is crushing the very spirit of the country and hence the fundamentalists should be driven out for good. A certain degree of awareness is required to rise against the odds. It can be confidently expected that the public is fully capable of effecting a change, if equipped with the right kind of leadership.

The extension of this apprehension is the question mark about the Pakistani nuclear program. Is it in secure hands? What if the mullahs take over the controls of the nuclear installations? What if the ground realities change one day and what if chaos and mayhem breaks out with the crazies tearing apart the security mechanism of the nuclear program? We certainly need to pay attention and devote some energy and resources trying to figure out this issue.

What could hurt the most is a mutiny in the military ranks. Understood that the armed forces are a well-knit, disciplined unit, what cannot and should not, however, be counted out is the fact that there are elements sympathetic to the superfluous and distorted principles of Islam. Waging a ‘holy war’ in the name of religion is something the soldiers may not refrain from doing.

Not that Ms. Bhutto was the best choice or the right choice, but her death will certainly create a deeper crisis of leadership in Pakistan. The greatest misfortune of that country is lack of a committed and dedicated leadership. The offshoot of this crisis has been, over the years, wrong decisions taken both by the uniformed and the political leadership and those decisions are biting the nation in the rear end now. The irony is that the same faces are still in power!

The other major political figure, Nawaz Sharif, could turn out to be a beneficiary under the given set of circumstances. In fact, given his background, being a yes-man of the Establishment, he can be an ideal fit. However, he represents the ultra-right and is by no means a moderate.

Musharraf’s strategy of isolating the major political forces for several years has resulted in the draconic situation that we see in Pakistan today. The monster of fundamentalism has left the country and its people paralyzed and doomed.

Pakistan is miles and miles away from the Establishment of a civil society. The involvement of toxic Islam has only polluted the environment and has taken the nation away from any prospects of prosperity and a healthy future for the generations to come. There seems to be no way out.

The December 27 event will leave an indelible mark on Pakistan’s history. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has possibly heralded an end of the Bhutto dynasty in Pakistan politics. Ms. Bhutto is a loss to the nation in a way that she was endowed with a solid educational background coupled with the ability to orchestrate public opinion and unite the masses. One fact, however, remains indisputable – Pakistan is a mystery that has baffled even the best of political analysts! There is never a dull day in that nation’s life and making any predictions is can turn out to be nothing but a sheer exercise in futility!

–Ahson Saeed Hasan



  1. As your article suggests, the issues surrounding Bhutto and Pakistani politics are complex, to say the least.

    Just to add to the confusion, here is an excellent background and analysis video from Real News Network:
    Aijaz Ahmad: Democracy movement in Pakistan not dead [The democracy movement did not start with Bhutto and will not end with her death]:

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