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After Bhutto, the deluge
Mahmud Sipra

Those that planned and finally took her life may have succeeded in depriving her supporters and her young family of her physical presence but in doing so they have unwittingly unleashed a deluge that their misguided agenda will now find impossible to withstand.

To take Benazir Bhutto’s name in the past tense is hard. It is going to be even harder to visualise Pakistan’s politics without her towering presence. Like her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto before her, she strode like a colossus over Pakistan’s political landscape during her short political life leaving an indelible imprint stamped on the psyche of a people. To Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, they came to listen to. To Benazir, they came not so much to listen to but to feel her reassuring presence. If ZAB was the stuff of legerdemain, his daughter Benazir will now be Joan of Arc.

No obituary, no eulogy, no amount of outpouring of grief at her tragic death will adequately explain the chemistry she enjoyed with the people. Her ability to photosynthesize with the people — that great reservoir of raw power from where she derived her own immense energy and political strength — was matched by only one other person before her — her father.

In politics, you were either for her or against her. In death, one can only be for her. She is now the daughter, the sister and the mother of every Pakistani man, woman and child. She recently returned after an eight-year hiatus under the aegis of a controversial arrangement offered to her by President Musharraf. An arrangement, in no less measure, encouraged and structured by Washington. That her return, triumphant as it might have been, suffered from a fundamental weakness — rightly or wrongly — of carrying the “Made in Washington” label. A label that exposed her immediately to the ever watchful and furtive eye of religious extremists, purists and her political detractors who now saw the Daughter of the East as not one of us but as one of them.

Her high profile return to a tumultuous welcome, marred within hours of her arrival by a suicide bomber, left over 130 dead. An attack she narrowly survived herself. The agonised cry of the injured and the maimed that rent the air that night was only to be the forerunner of a much darker day and nights ahead. But the night passed.

To exacerbate matters, Washington’s blatant attempt at nation building with the noble intent of putting Pakistan on the fast track to democracy coincided with President Musharraf’s own domestic problems.

Not the least of which was his imposition of an “Emergency” in the country. It backfired with dramatic repercussions. Forced on to the back foot by a plethora of internal and external pressures — President Musharraf (then General) shed his uniform- and announced January 8, 2008 as the date for general elections.

In a just world it would have to be accepted that President Musharraf kept his word and Benazir kept hers — by going on the campaign trail with vigour. Somewhere between her brave journey into Balochistan and the North Western Frontier in rallies and speeches she said something that must have convinced those that straddle the borders with Afghanistan that this was no status quo lady — she meant business.

And the game got bigger and deadlier. With less then 12 days to go for elections, her election juggernaut made a scheduled stop in Rawalpindi for her speech at a venue where the country’s first prime minister had fallen to an assassin’s bullet. Not too far from where her late father had been executed.

Speaking extemporaneously with a voice gone hoarse from a gruelling campaign, she chided, she mocked and she challenged. “This is my country and I will rid it of all those who threaten it and its people...we will do it together, you and I.” This is what the crowds had come to hear. This was vintage Benazir. The address over without incident, she left the stage among a sea of her supporters and security men.

Safe inside her bulletproof vehicle — her cavalcade sluggishly made for the exit gate breaching one of the basic rules of security: A fast exit is the safest exit. Her supporters gathered around the vehicle — forcing it to a crawl and to a stall. Then for some inexplicable reason — throwing caution to the winds — she emerged from the safety of her armoured vehicle through the sunroof. She didn’t see it coming and it seems neither did her security detail. The staccato sound of gunfire and, a split-second later, a blast. Then mayhem. A limb here, a hand there and blood everywhere. The nightmare scenario of October 18 was being replayed all over again — only this time they succeeded. Overnight the dynamics changed.

The country went into a violent tailspin. While the world watched in horror and disbelief, President Musharraf quickly moved to calm an explosive situation by immediately declaring a 3-day mourning period. Washington uncharacteristically went silent leaving President Musharraf even more isolated then he already is. Giving quick currency to the thinking: it’s his mess, let him sort it out.

Far away in chilly Iowa — Benazir’s assassination and Pakistan became a campaign issue with both party candidates weighing in with their views. Significant among the comments, this nugget from Hillary Clinton, evidencing her foreign policy prowess: “What do you expect — it is a garrison town!” Really? The Republicans were somewhat more circumspect. The received wisdom from Senator McCain’s stance could be interpreted as: losing one potential ally is bad enough; but to now undermine an existing one could not possibly be good policy or good politics. If he didn’t say it maybe he should have.

Those that planned and finally took her life may have succeeded in depriving her supporters and her young family of her physical presence but in doing so they have unwittingly unleashed a deluge that their misguided agenda will now find impossible to withstand. There being nothing more forceful or fearsome then the wrath of a wounded nation.

There is no dearth of forces political or religious, or the myriad other movements that seem set to destabilize Pakistan today. Any one who believes that Pakistan’s problems are restricted to the troubled areas contiguous to Afghanistan is clinging to dangerous fiction. That wolf is not just at the door — he is amongst us!

Like all such tragedies, the assassination of Benazir will be open to questions conjecture and rumour. More then forty years and eight presidents later, the death of JFK remains shrouded in mystery. More recently the death of Princess Diana is still the subject of conjecture and conflicting “eye witness” accounts. Benazir’s death — despite the presence of the world’s press, news cameras, thousands of her supporters, her janesars and a security force provided by the government — is now becoming a circus of smoke and mirrors.

In life Benazir held out the promise of a moderate democracy — sadly a promise she was unable to keep. The void left by her untimely death in her party’s hierarchy is now overseen by a triad: her young son, Bilawal; his father Asif Ali Zardari; and the avuncular Amin Fahim. But it was Mr. Zardari who struck a welcome new note by speaking of the “Federation” from Naudero the other day thereby immediately setting the pace towards bringing together a fragmented society, a fractious electorate and a people who till yesterday were suffering from apathy and political fatigue. All that may now change.

It is wisely said that when a group of people ask questions of others it is called an investigation but when the people start asking questions of themselves it is called self-examination. The time for that may have arrived.

If this comes about then it shall be the enduring legacy that Benazir Bhutto would have left behind.


Last speech of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Complete Video (Click Here)


Elections 2008