I am not particularly enthused at discussing Benazir’s checkered past, considering that she is dead and that Islamically, we avoid talking about someone’s shortcomings after their passing. But, in weighing the benefit vs. harm, I find it important that between the eulogies, the unending praises and the references to Benazir’s “martyr” status, that we take a moment to step away and be JUST to history. Revisionist history, especially in matters that may frame the future of Pakistan, can be especially harmful. We have to understand what took us to this juncture and also recognize that Benazir’s leadership wasn’t in Pakistan’s best interest, considering FACTS and HISTORY, not emotions and “official, whitewashed narratives”. Let’s turn to the well-regarded journalist, Robert Fisk:
We are told by George Bush that her murderers were “extremists” and “terrorists” [implication? “Islamists”]. Well, you can’t dispute that.
Even before the dust settled, Bush and everyone else found the ultimate and oft-used/abused bogeyman- of course, none other than Al-Qaeda; after all, didn’t the attack have all the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda? Though one wonders when Al-Qaeda officially filed for patents on nearly every sort of terrorist attack:
It was the Taliban madmen again, the al-Qa’ida spider who struck at this lone and brave woman who had dared to call for democracy in her country.
Of course, when you have pin up our favorite villain (Al-Qaeda) as the guilty party, then you need a hero on the other side, so let’s make Benazir a martyr:
let us be under no illusions that this brave lady is indeed a true martyr – it’s not surprising that the “good-versus-evil” donkey can be trotted out to explain the carnage
Well, Fisk wants to provide us a refresher in the Bhutto family’s “illustrious” history:
Murtaza and Shahnawaz [Benazir’s brothers], hijacked a Pakistani airliner in 1981 and flew it to Kabul where Murtaza demanded the release of political prisoners in Pakistan. Here, a military officer on the plane was murdered.
Then Fisk moves on to a brilliant narrative that examines Bhutto’s corruption, published only about 2 weeks ago in the London Review of Books, headlined “Daughter of the WEST” by Tariq Ali. I will take the opportunity to touch on Mr. Ali’s account as well.
In this article, Tariq talks about the “arranged marriage” that the West was trying to broker between Benazir and Musharraf, two parties that loathed each other:
Arranged marriages can be a messy business… Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.
The single, strong parent in this case was a desperate State Department… Brokers from both sides engaged in lengthy negotiations on the size of the dowry… She may have been in a hurry but she did not wish to be seen taking the arm of a uniformed president. He was not prepared to forgive her past…Neither party could say ‘no’, though Musharraf hoped the union could be effected inconspicuously
But even though the masses can be like sheep like masses in all nations, there is still a sizeable chunk of the educated and self-thinking class in Pakistan, who could not believe the drama that was transpiring. It was like a reality TV program, except that the script was being written, and then played out, in front of their eyes. Yet, people were expected to believe it wasn’t what they were seeing and thinking. No, we were to believe that we had been fools to distrust Musharraf, and fools to believe that Benazir was anything but the knight in shining armor, galloping into Pakistan, to rescue it from its own people.
But no one asked and no one is still asking… why did the militancy suddenly increase in Pakistan, at least as the “official narrative” goes? Why did Pakistan suddenly become so dangerous? Why did so many frontiers in the “war on terrorism” suddenly open? Why did Musharraf’s popularity dive into numbers even below Bush’s in America? Of course, no link to the bloodbath and possible chemical weaponry used at the Red Mosque… of course no link to the repression of people from a wide spectrum of ideologies and political inclinations, of course no link to the hundreds of “missing people“… of course no link to the removal of all “unfriendly” judges and replacement by a kangaroo court. No links at all to any of this. If you were thinking, “it must have been all the madrassas”. Oh yes, the madrassa myth. No myth? Well then, congratulations, you indeed bought the OFFICIAL NARRATIVE. So, back to the Pakistani audience, watching the wedding drama unfold:
Many Pakistanis – not just the mutinous and mischievous types who have to be locked up at regular intervals – were repelled, and coverage of ‘the deal’ in the Pakistan media was universally hostile, except on state television. The ‘breakthrough’ was loudly trumpeted in the West, however, and a whitewashed Benazir Bhutto was presented on US networks and BBC TV news as the champion of Pakistani democracy – reporters loyally referred to her as ‘the former prime minister’ rather than the fugitive politician facing corruption charges in several countries.
What corruption? Never heard of it. Ahem:
- A Treatise on Benazir’s Stolen Opulence
- Swiss Magistrate has enough evidence to indict Bhutto & here
- Benazir’s £4m Surrey mansion
- Bribes to Benazir’s husband
- Benazir Bhutto and tales of Corruption
How did Benazir return the favor for her new official image being presented to the world on a silver platter (while many self-thinking Pakistanis saw RIGHT through it):
by expressing sympathy for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lunching with the Israeli ambassador to the UN (a litmus test) and pledging to ‘wipe out terrorism’ in her own country. In 1979 a previous military dictator had bumped off her father with Washington’s approval, and perhaps she thought it would be safer to seek permanent shelter underneath the imperial umbrella. HarperCollins had paid her half a million dollars to write a new book. The working title she chose was ‘Reconciliation’.
And what did the bridegroom of the arranged marriage promise?
Like his predecessors, he promised [in 1999] he would stay in power only for a limited period, pledging in 2003 to resign as army chief of staff in 2004. Like his predecessors, he ignored his pledge. Martial law always begins with the promise of a new order that will sweep away the filth and corruption that marked the old one: in this case it toppled the civilian administrations of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. But ‘new orders’ are not forward movements, more military detours that further weaken the shaky foundations of a country and its institutions. Within a decade the uniformed ruler will be overtaken by a new upheaval.
So, what happened when Benazir returned to Pakistan? Was the wedding party really that spectacular? Was the party even necessary, considering the risks to her life and the lives of the innocent people who could perish in an attack that was almost waiting to happen?
The intelligence agencies (as well as her own security advisers) warned her of the dangers. She had declared war on the terrorists and they had threatened to kill her. But she was adamant. She wanted to demonstrate her popularity to the world and to her political rivals, including those inside her own fiefdom, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). For a whole month before she boarded the Dubai-Karachi flight, the PPP were busy recruiting volunteers from all over the country to welcome her. Up to 200,000 people lined the streets, but it was a far cry from the million who turned up in Lahore in 1986 … As darkness fell, the bombers struck. Who they were and who sent them remains a mystery. She was unhurt, but 130 people died, including some of the policemen guarding her. The wedding reception had led to mayhem.
We all know that Musharraf eventually called the State of Emergency and removed the judiciary. What did Benazir do?
Her first response was to say she was shocked, which was slightly disingenuous… Yet for more than 24 hours she was unable to give a clear response. At one point she even criticised the chief justice for being too provocative.
And then Musharraf too decided to quit the forced marriage. So, now a desperate Benazir does what?
she couldn’t take the risk of losing key figures in her party. She denounced the emergency and its perpetrator, established contact with the beleaguered opposition, and, as if putting on a new lipstick, declared that she would lead the struggle to get rid of the dictator. She now tried to call on the chief justice to express her sympathy but wasn’t allowed near his residence.
What would a principled leader have done instead, and what did she do with her party colleague who was one of the leading voices in the defense of the judiciary?
She could have followed the example of her imprisoned colleague Aitzaz Ahsan, but she was envious of him: he had become far too popular in Pakistan… Not a single message had flowed from her Blackberry to congratulate him on his victories in the struggle to reinstate the chief justice. Ahsan had advised her against any deal with Musharraf. When generals are against the wall, he is reported to have told her, they resort to desperate and irrational measures…The fact that Ahsan was proved right irritated her even more. Any notion of political morality had long ago been dumped. The very idea of a party with a consistent set of beliefs was regarded as ridiculous and outdated. Ahsan was now safe in prison, far from the madding hordes of Western journalists whom she received in style during the few days she spent under house arrest and afterwards. She made a few polite noises about his imprisonment, but nothing more.
Where was marriage broker?
Negroponte spent some time with Musharraf and spoke to Benazir, still insisting that they make up and go through with the deal. She immediately toned down her criticisms, but the general was scathing. Had she remained loyal to him she might have lost public support, but he would have made sure she had a substantial presence in the new parliament.
And we all know now of course, that Nawaz Sharif came back not much later, and polls showed him with a lead over Benazir. When Nawaz tried to call her (and I am hard-pressed to accept his sincere intentions) to convince her to boycott elections, Benazir in essence refused. In effect, the boycott was left to Imran Khan and other minor players, the few politicians taking principled stands and instep with the deposed judges. Here was yet another opportunity to choose principles over politics and power. But it wasn’t for Benazir. She was going to fight the elections, principles (and Pakistan’s independent judiciary) might as well go to hell.
Here we return back to Fisk’s article, where he highlights the latter parts of Tariq Ali’s excellent account:
Tariq Ali dwelt at length on the subsequent murder of Murtaza Bhutto by police close to his home at a time when Benazir was prime minister – and at a time when Benazir was enraged at Murtaza for demanding a return to PPP values and for condemning Benazir’s appointment of her own husband as minister for industry, a highly lucrative post…
When Murtaza’s 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, rang her aunt Benazir to ask why witnesses were being arrested – rather than her father’s killers – she says Benazir told her: “Look, you’re very young. You don’t understand things.”
So, Benazir is dead. So are her brothers. One murdered when she herself was PM, amid mysterious circumstances. Where do we go from here? Fisk continues…
George Bush announced on Thursday he was “looking forward” to talking to his old friend Musharraf.
So, of course, we were asked to concentrate once more on all those ” extremists” and “terrorists”, not on the logic of questioning which many Pakistanis were feeling their way through in the aftermath of Benazir’s assassination.
With Benazir’s killing, would the hated elections that no one wants still go on? Probably not, especially considering that one of the main candidates is gone, Fisk argues. And then Fisk boils out down to simple logic, in the way that Inspector Ian Blair might have done in his policeman’s notebook before he became the top cop in London. So, I’ll let Fisk take us to the finish-line:
Question: Who forced Benazir Bhutto to stay in London and tried to prevent her return to Pakistan?
Answer: General Musharraf.
Question: Who ordered the arrest of thousands of Benazir’s supporters this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.
Question: Who placed Benazir under temporary house arrest this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.
Question: Who declared martial law this month?
Answer General Musharraf.
Question: who killed Benazir Bhutto?
Er. Yes. Well quite.
You see the problem? Yesterday, our television warriors informed us the PPP members shouting that Musharraf was a “murderer” were complaining he had not provided sufficient security for Benazir. Wrong. They were shouting this because they believe he killed her.
Related Posts on MM:
- Benazir Bhutto Killed in Terrorist Attack (several updates and links)
- Pakistan’s Puppet Dictator Declares State of Emergency (Musharraf Won’t Let Go)
- Why the Masses are Like Sheep… Benazir, Musharraf and Pakistan’s Corrupt Politics
- US to Invade Pakistan?
- Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) Revisited — The Aftermath