DAWN - Editorial; December 29, 2007

Published December 29, 2007

Benazir Bhutto’s death: a catalyst for change?

BENAZIR Bhutto will be remembered only and forever as a martyr, not just by her own party but by every politically conscious person in this singularly blighted land. Whatever her motivation — ideological belief, spirit of defiance, or just plain stubbornness — she stuck to her appointed task to the very end and left a mark on Pakistan’s political map that no generalissimo or government flunkey can ever airbrush out of history. All shortcomings, real or contrived, will be forgiven and forgotten. Starting in life as the daughter of a titan as towering as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto she became in due course a force in her own right. Given her extraordinary privilege, the options before Benazir Bhutto were limitless, yet she chose a life that was marked so much more by struggle than acquiescence. She was her father’s chosen successor in a family with feudal underpinnings and two able-bodied sons. This was and continues to be a glaring exception in the patriarchal and misogynistic order that sadly rules our lives to this day in the 21st century. As a teenager she accompanied her father to Shimla where Pakistan and India negotiated the unfinished business of the war of 1971. Benazir’s presence alongside her father at this crucial point in history set the stage for her political career. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was smarter than most people and he made his intentions clear at the outset, in no uncertain terms. His daughter went on to the hallowed halls of Radcliffe and Oxford.

When Z.A. Bhutto was killed by presidential order, she chose imprisonment over exile in plush surroundings. She needn’t have done that but she did. And what adulation she got in return. Throngs of admirers followed her wherever she went during the course of her political struggle. Poignantly, the flood of tears as she was laid to rest besides her father on Friday was but a manifestation of this adulation.

There are questions to be answered by people we suffer today in the name of national interest and ‘Pakistan-first’. Benazir Bhutto was apparently never given the security she requested following her much-criticised agreement with Pervez Musharraf which facilitated her return to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Why not? The detractors of the current dispensation will ask if the death of Pakistan’s most internationally recognisable, and outspokenly secular, leader in any way benefits those who have seemingly convinced the Bush administration that only they stand between the Taliban and the nuclear button. More questions will inevitably follow when the statement of day one that Ms Bhutto was killed by gunfire is changed the next day by the interior minister to say that that the former prime minister’s killing was the result of a shrapnel injury. Why wasn’t a scientific attempt made to ascertain the exact cause of her death as would have happened anywhere else in the world? This may have been the result of nervousness or ineptitude on the part of the administration but will lead to more questions. Was the killer actually the suicide bomber? Or was there a sniper somewhere out of sight?

The nation’s attention will remain focused now on Ms Bhutto’s assassination and it will obviously be distracted from the issues that have occupied centre-stage for months now. Agreed, that this is not the time to raise contentious issues. It is time to grieve. But once the emotion dies down it should be recognised, calmly and coolly, that the status quo cannot persist. As a nation we have to get our heads round the fact that change is inevitable.

This tragedy ought to be the catalyst for this change. As we move forward we would do well to remember that Benazir Bhutto and her party represented politics of the federation of Pakistan. In these troubled times, this is of paramount importance. Her supporters appeared equally committed to her cause — or their collective cause — whether she was in Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore or Larkana. The way forward, in terms of toppling dictatorship, lies not in burning buses. Instead we all need to reflect dispassionately and, once and for all, decide as a nation where to point the finger.

The sins of politicians are, almost without exception, said to be grave and despicable. But there is a tendency, almost inbred, which we must check if we are to move forward as a nation and in due course pin the blame where it ought to be affixed. It is not the politicians who have let this country down. They have never been allowed a free hand in the running of Pakistan even when they were elected by the people. Can they still be blamed?

A garden of nightmares

THE verdant vistas of Liaquat Bagh, situated on the bustling Murree Road in Rawalpindi, hardly make for a picture of turmoil. But on Dec 27, this renowned space completed its chequered historical journey from Company Bagh in the 1880s to Municipal Garden to the present-day Liaquat Bagh — a place that has become an uncanny, bloodstained venue in Pakistan’s turbulent political history. From the time that Lord Dalhousie turned Rawalpindi into the headquarters of the Northern Command, making it the most significant British military garrison in British India, the area has little to show for its contribution to democratic processes.

Its first tragedy happened on Oct 16, 1951, when, while addressing a political meeting, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated by, according to reports, a professional assassin of Afghan descent. The man who fired the fatal shots was immediately grabbed by some people posing as members of the shocked audience and done to death. This event gave the spot the identity it is known by today. Not too far from the site of Liaquat Ali Khan’s murder, there once stood a colonial edifice known as Rawalpindi Jail; it was used to imprison nationalists and this is where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was taken to the gallows in 1979. The building, perhaps too harsh a threat to the national conscience, was demolished and replaced with Adiala Jail. Almost 28 years on and a few paces away, Liaquat Bagh’s rear gate became the site of not only Benazir Bhutto’s murder but the mutilation of yet another dream.

Liaquat Bagh has historically served as a place of political rallies and rousing speeches. But the time has come to reinvent its gruesome past. The PPP had long demanded a memorial at the site of Bhutto’s hanging. Perhaps, the virtual end of Pakistan’s only political dynasty is as apt a time as any to grant them their wish. In the last few years, the Rawalpindi Development Authority, through soliciting funds from donors, has already renovated 80 per cent of the ‘bagh’ with manicured walking paths, playgrounds and other recreational spots. However, it has now become the government’s responsibility to honour the dreams and legacies of all the leaders who fell here, in the line of duty and hence, fire. It should embody the memory of Liaquat Ali Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the shape of monuments or emblems; and enshrine Benazir Bhutto in a rose garden. A tribute to the inimitable combination of courage, charisma and defiance that was so unmistakably her.

Another Bhutto assassinated

By Haider K. Nizamani

BEGUM Nusrat Bhutto should thank the state of her health for sparing her the agony of having to cope with the shock of the assassination of a daughter. In Benazir she has lost the third of her four children — all of whom fell victim to violence. It is the fourth Bhutto whose assassinated body was received by their ancestral graveyard on Friday in as many decades.

It all started with the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979. Then came the mysterious death of his younger son Shahnawaz in the French Riviera in 1985 which was followed by the cold blooded murder of Mir Murtaza in 1996 in Karachi right in front of their family home in Clifton. And now Benazir.

Benazir Bhutto’s untimely and tragic death has created a huge void in Pakistan’s political scene that will be difficult to fill anytime soon. She led the party that has secured a majority of popular vote in almost every election held in the country since 1988. For her supporters Benazir was more of a family member than just a political leader. People wept with her when she mourned the death of her father Z.A. Bhutto in 1979. When millions thronged the streets in 1986 to welcome her, one of the oft-repeated slogans in Sindh used to be “Tuhinji Bhen (Your sister), Muhinji Bhen (My sister), Benazir Benazir!” Unsurprisingly most are grieving today as though they have lost a sister.

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is undoubtedly the kind of tragedy our country and the region are painfully familiar with. As with other political murders of such stature, this one will have a far-reaching impact on the political milieu.

Some of the immediate repercussions at the national level are already discernible. Nawaz Sharif has decided to boycott the upcoming elections. This is likely to have a snowballing effect. The PPP leadership is understandably in a state of shock and what its future course of action will be it is too early to say. At present the party has decided to observe 40 days of mourning.George W. Bush in his statement has called for the electoral process to go ahead but the US administration may have to re-visit that clarion call in the light of realities of the present Pakistani political scene. Ms Bhutto’s assassination is a grave setback to the Washington supported power-sharing arrangement between Pervez Musharraf and the slain PPP leader. Ironically the very electoral process in which she had chosen to participate, at the risk of alienating the anti-Musharraf coalition, could now be derailed due to her death.

If and when the elections are held, will the PPP be able to translate sympathy for Benazir Bhutto into an electoral victory as the Congress Party in India had managed to do in the aftermath of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination? Mrs Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984. Her party rode on the crest of a sympathy wave to achieve a landslide victory for Rajiv Gandhi, her only surviving son, in the elections which followed in December of the same year. But the difference remains that the Pakistan People’s Party is institutionally a weak organisation as compared with the Congress.

Secondly, no scion of Ms Bhutto is old enough to enter the political arena at this stage. Therefore, in spite of groundswell of sympathy, the PPP is unlikely to translate it into an electoral landslide.

Will we ever come to know who killed Benazir Bhutto and why? Unless the perpetrators of the crime choose to come forward and claim responsibility, don’t expect much from our official agencies. The pessimistic prognosis is based on the track record of Pakistan’s history in such cases. Liaquat Ali Khan, the country’s first prime minister, was killed in the same park in 1951 where Ms Bhutto was felled by the bullets from her assassin’s gun. To date that murder is shrouded in mystery. More than half-a-century later, the twice-elected prime minister has met the same fate.

Unnatural deaths of political titans in South Asia have often led to jubilation, often muted one, in the opponents’ camps. Recall General Ziaul Haq’s death in 1988 in Pakistan and Mrs Gandhi’s murder in 1984. But adversity at times can bring out the best in people’s collective character as it did in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. Benazir Bhutto’s murder is of the same magnitude in terms of its political intensity for the Pakistani polity. Political parties have unanimously condemned the killing.

Rajiv Gandhi lost his life in 1991 at the hands of a Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in south India. The gruesome act dissipated support in India for a separate homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto may stir up similar feelings against proponents of political violence in Pakistan.

This has been annus horribilis for Pakistan on many counts. The death of Benazir makes it more so for her three children. The perpetrators of the crime certainly did not think of the three youngsters when they decided to blow their mother up. Bobby Sands, the Irish member of the UK’s parliament who died when on hunger strike in 1981 at the age of 27, had said, ‘Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.’

Benazir’s radiant smile on the eve of Dec 27 will for ever be etched on the minds of her children and her political supporters. Pakistanis can avenge Benazir’s killing by sticking to the exemplary pacific nature that always have been the hallmark of the PPP’s popular political culture.


OTHER VOICES - Bangladesh Press

An assassin strikes democracy

We are shocked, flabbergasted. The assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, will have a far-reaching fallout on the region. It put democracy at stake, threw the region into a state of uncertainty.

President Pervez Musharraf has failed to provide security for the opposition leader, despite clear risks of assassination. Benazir herself spoke of dangers several times.

The high-stakes killing seems to have cleared the way for the president to gain political dividends from the restive situation. He is likely to postpone the Jan 8 elections in a country that runs the risk of plunging into further chaos.

Benazir was prime minister twice in Pakistan, a country with a bloodstained history and on-off democracy. Although she was a controversial leader with allegations of corruption against her and husband Asif Ali Zardari, her death as a well-recognised popular politician will certainly strain peace efforts in the region.

Benazir’s death closed another grim chapter in Pakistan. Twenty-eight years ago, her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, another former prime minister, was hanged by a military dictatorship in the same city where she was killed.

Witnesses and police said Benazir was struck down amid scenes of blood and chaos Thursday as an unknown gunman opened fire and later blew himself up in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The death of Benazir is a testimony to the murderous situation created by terrorism in the nuclear-armed country. It dealt a blow to security and peace in South Asia -- a new, huge setback on the path to democracy.

We strongly condemn the killing of Benazir. The government of Pakistan must bring the perpetrators to justice. This is for the survival of Pakistan. — (Dec 28)

Question marks linger over missing Vishnu

The resignation of cultural affairs adviser Ayub Quadri surprised none of us, but was an embarrassment for the caretaker government. The adviser stepped down after two rare Vishnu statues went missing from Zia International Airport, which were marked for shipment to Paris for display at the Guimet Museum.

He took the responsibility for the loss of the statues — a rare move by a cabinet member in Bangladesh’s history.

Quadri will certainly win wide appreciation from people for his sense of responsibility as he deserves. In the buildup to his resignation, he was steadfast on his decision and finally turned in his resignation letter to President Iajuddin Ahmed through the cabinet division Wednesday, despite requests from colleagues not to do so.

The burden of unpacking the mysterious theft falls on the government. The Fakhruddin administration opened a probe into the mystery of the missing statues — seemingly sincerely, but there was little headway in it.

Those who stole the statues from a secure place like the airport were not petty criminals.

The government cancelled a second shipment of relics and artefacts to France in a change of mind, which apparently upset the French embassy in Dhaka and, understandably, the authorities of the Guimet Museum.

Critics ask — and rightly so — why the government was not cautious enough to prevent the theft even after the protests by the campaigners and a legal battle in the Supreme Court. We hope the government will reveal the results of the investigation, now ongoing. More importantly, the government must pull out all the stops to avoid straining bilateral relations between the two countries. — (Dec 28)

— Selected and translated by Arun Devnath

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007



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