Benazir, Bhutto, Pakistan

Remembering Benazir Bhutto

So that’s how the end of a dream looks like. Lot of noise and then silence. Pakistan now teeters at edge of a precipice. This silence prevails, it is ominous in form and dark in character, and it reminds us all that larger than life heroes …..after all how extraordinarily large in stature breath in the same air as we all common men do…..what makes them heroes is that they breath air ringing with the tone of their JUST CAUSE……they stand up for their rights ….and live for others and die for them. And Lahore is extremely sad. Very, very sad.

The fact of the matter is that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has shocked Pakistan and the entire world.  It is difficult to envisage the fallout, ramifications and implications of this brutal murder of one of Pakistan’s leading and beloved political figures, which is clear cut case of a targeted assassination. Despite later ridiculous and totally unbelievable fake version by the government, all eye witnesses confirm that  Benazir Bhutto was hit by two bullets, one in the neck, seconds before a suicide bomber blew himself up in close proximity to her vehicle. It seems the gunman lay in wait till Benazir emerged from the sunroof of her bullet-proof vehicle to wave to a crowd of zealous supporters thronging the path of her vehicle. Such accurate marksmanship appears to bear the hallmarks of a trained and professional shooter. The subsequent suicide blast seems to have been designed as a backup in case the marksman failed to hit her fatally. All this smacks of a well-planned conspiracy to silence one of the most eloquent voices against the country being held hostage by a small minority of fanatical terrorists operating under a false justificatory umbrella of Islam.  She was targeted and could not escape the sniper’s bullet, which has deprived the country of a leading player in the decisive process of its return to peace and democracy. She was a world renowned leader and leaves behind a void that will not be readily filled. No amount of condemnation will make up for the enormity of the loss.

During the last two decades, Pakistan has become the hotbed of religious extremism and obscurantism. Proxy wars have been fought on our soil. Pakistan today is a country where Muslims are killing Muslims. Even mosques, churches and religious congregations have not been spared as venues of cold-blooded communal and sectarian killings. Pakistan’s sole identity today is only as the “ground zero” of the “war on terror” and the sole “breeding ground” of “obscurantism and militancy” with a full-fledged war being waged on its own soil. There has been a huge collateral damage in this ongoing military operation. The biggest casualty, however, is Pakistan’s own dignity and credibility.

It has staked everything in this proxy war, and has killed thousands of its own people, yet it has been blamed for “not doing enough”. Pakistan continues to bleed in this ongoing war on terror. The culture of uncontrollable suicide attacks has added a new worrisome dimension to the ongoing national crisis that has engulfed our country in recent years. Last eight years have particularly been a painful period in our country’s history. What is most worrisome at this juncture is that Pakistan’s national edifice is being dismantled methodically, block-by-block, by keeping it engaged on multiple external as well as domestic fronts and by emasculating its constitutional institutions. Questions now abound about the very future of Pakistan. Pakistan has seen a constant struggle between power and polity since the very beginning of our independence. Might always and everywhere considered wrong has never been claimed so “right” as in Pakistan. In this process, we have lost half the country and also our “raison d’état.” Political regimes have been overthrown in military coups and elected leaders either executed or banished in exile. A nation’s strength always lies in its people and institutions. In our Pakistan, both have been denied their role or relevance. The country has been stripped of its democratic ethos. Constitutions have been violated in letter and in spirit with impunity. Institutional paralysis has kept the whole nation disenfranchised. It is unsure of what its own original rationale was and what it stands for today.

The life story of Benazir Bhutto is the stuff that legends are made of. Benazir Bhutto was born to Begum Nusrat Ispahani, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of a prominent Shia Muslim family of Larkana in Karachi, Dominion of Pakistan on June 21, 1953. She attended the Lady Jennings Nursery School and then the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi. After two years of schooling at the Rawalpindi Presentation Convent, she was sent to the Jesus and Mary Convent at Murree. She passed her O-level examinations at the age of 15. She then went on to complete her A-Levels at the Karachi Grammar School. After completing her early education in Pakistan, she pursued her higher education in the United States. From 1969 to 1973 she attended Radcliffe College at Harvard University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree with cum laude honors in comparative government. Benazair Bhutto would later call her time at Harvard “four of the happiest years of my life” and said it formed “the very basis of [her] belief in democracy”. As Prime Minister, she arranged a gift from the Pakistani government to Harvard Law School. The next phase of her education took place in the United Kingdom. Between 1973 and 1977, Benazir Bhutto studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She completed a course in International Law and Diplomacy while at Oxford. In December 1976 she was elected president of the Oxford Union, becoming the first Asian woman to head the prestigious debating society. Benazir Bhutto’s father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was removed from office following a military coup in 1977 led by the then military Dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who imposed martial law but promised to hold elections within three months. But later, instead of fulfilling the promise of holding general elections, Dictator Zia charged Mr. Bhutto with conspiring to murder the father of dissident politician Ahmed Raza Kasuri. Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death by the martial law court. Despite the accusation being “widely doubted by the public”, and despite many clemency appeals from foreign leaders, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged on 4 April 1979. Appeals for clemency were dismissed by Dictator General Zia. Benazir Bhutto and her mother were held in a “police camp” until the end of May, after the execution. In 1985, Benazir Bhutto’s brother Shahnawaz was killed under suspicious circumstances in France. The killing of another of her brothers, Mir Murtaza, in 1996, contributed to destabilizing her second term as Prime Minister.

On November 3, 2007, President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, citing actions by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and religious extremism in the nation. Benazir Bhutto returned to the country, interrupting a visit to family in Dubai. She was greeted by supporters chanting slogans at the airport. After staying in her plane for several hours she was driven to her home in Lahore, accompanied by hundreds of supporters. While acknowledging that Pakistan faced a political crisis, she noted that Musharraf’s declaration of emergency, unless lifted, would make it very difficult to have fair elections. She commented that “The extremists need a dictatorship, and dictatorship needs extremists.”

It is known to the very few that, in an interview with political interviewer David Frost, taken on November 2, 2007, Benazir Bhutto claimed that bin Laden had been murdered by Omar Sheikh. During her answer to a question pertaining to the identities of those who had previously attempted her own assassination, Bhutto named Sheikh as a possible suspect while referring to him as “the man who murdered Osama bin Laden.” Despite the weight of such a statement, neither Bhutto nor Frost attempted to clarify it and no other mainstream media appears to have further inquired about it.

As far as current scenario is concerned, today’s Pakistan has nothing right in its political system. It is neither parliamentary nor presidential, and is without any parallel in contemporary history. Poor governance is its constant hallmark. Crime and corruption are rampant and galore. Law and order are nowhere to be seen. We are mired in domestic chaos and instability as a result of serious constitutional and political crisis since March this year. We are even ashamed of our image problems that have aggravated over the last couple of years. We have been in global headlines for frequent blasts and suicide attacks, killing hundreds of innocent people including civilians and security personnel. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination now brings us another wave of global ignominy and opprobrium. Like an ‘enfant terrible’ we feel proud in being censured in global forums. Only last month, we were expelled from Commonwealth for violating its fundamental values of freedom and democracy. We were in the impressive company of an island country called Fiji, which is not even a full-fledged state when it was being indicted for its military dictatorship at the 53-member Commonwealth summit in Kampala. We are not moved even if the world community at large, especially our friends and allies, are seriously disappointed or even embarrassed on the fate of democracy in our country and the plight of the judiciary, the media and the people of Pakistan. We don’t take anything to heart. Look, how gracefully we digested the tragedy of 1971, the worst that could happen to any country or a nation. We did not make it an ‘issue of our core’ for we had other ‘core issues’.

The world watches us with anxiety and concern as we continue to replay our blunders and aggravate our crises. The worst has been judicial maelstrom that has gripped our country since March this year, followed by many tragedies including the May 12 carnage and subsequent October 18 blasts in Karachi and the November 3 extra-constitutional emergency ‘blitz’ which was an assault in one stroke on our constitution, our judiciary, media and our fundamental freedoms and rights. Both the judiciary and media, two powerful pillars of the state, remain “in the line of the fire.” This state of affairs is certainly not conducive to successfully tackling the numerous challenges now facing our nation, including the challenge of terrorism which will not be eliminated through military operations or killing of innocent people. It will not be contained through cosmetic approaches or campaigns motivated by retaliation and retribution. Only a steady, measured and comprehensive approach encompassing both short-term and long-term political, developmental, humanitarian and human rights strategies that focus on the underlying disease rather than the symptoms would bring an enduring solution to this problem. The complexity of Pakistan’s challenges requires a non-combative approach with the full support and backing of the people of Pakistan.

There is no hope for normalcy under the present system in any shape or form. What the country needs immediately is a new national consensus government with the participation of all major political parties during the healing period. Caretakers of any breed or creed will not do. We as a nation are at crossroads of a critical juncture. The stakes are very high. We need to wind down our confrontational and combative mode before it is too late. We cannot afford any more national tragedies and debacles. Pakistan owes its existence to a courageous and visionary lawyer and constitutionalist wedded to the rule of law. Let us revive the Quaid’s legacy. Let us behave as a civilized nation.

For one, the elections of January 8 have now been thrown into grave doubt, especially if the protests and violence do not abate. The boycott by the PML (N) has deprived the contest of one of the major electoral players, and thereby deprived the exercise of any remaining credibility or even relevance.  The government has proposed calling an all-parties conference to take stock of the situation. Although the idea sounds good in principle, it is difficult to envisage the opposition flocking to such a moot in the obtaining circumstances, which have deepened the divide between the Musharraf dispensation and all other political forces. While the UN Security Council and many world leaders have sent a wave of condolence and condemnatory messages, the US and Britain, unsurprisingly since they are widely regarded as the main backers of a strategy of political reconciliation and transition to democracy through the impending elections, have reiterated the need for Pakistan to pay homage to Benazir Bhutto’s courageous martyrdom by proceeding with the elections on schedule, or not long after January 8. Unfortunately, the fly in the ointment is the deep mistrust (now deeper) between President Musharraf and almost all political forces except the King’s party. The president, already controversial after the events of 2007 and especially the November 3 imposition of emergency that allowed the decapitation of the superior judiciary, censorship of the media and the contested assuming of the office of president even in civilian mode, has suffered a further blow because of the assassination of the major political leader most inclined to work with him for the sake of a smooth transition to democracy. Even if the charged and perhaps motivated accusations from some political quarters of the Musharraf dispensation being responsible for the assassination are discounted as knee-jerk emotionalism, the government cannot escape the charge of responsibility for the major lapse of security and failure to protect one of the leading political figures of the country. Whether in these circumstances, and given the possibility of the agitation continuing, elections can be held at all, and that too on President Musharraf’s watch, must now be counted as one of the major conundrums facing the country. A period of instability is on the cards, and the outcome highly uncertain at the moment of writing these lines. While the country mourns and weeps for a courageous young woman leader cut down in untimely fashion by the perpetrators of terrorism, there are many whose eyes will be full of worry and tears for the future of the country.

A rudderless Pakistan was already a problem for itself, but now its problems have combat within itself, is now a world problem!

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