Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Image credit: Wikipedia; IFaqeer

[updated Dec. 28]

From Forbes:


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was shot dead Thursday at a political rally by an attacker who then set off a blast that left 20 others dead.

In a year of increasing violence in Pakistan, Bhutto returned home from exile in October to contest parliamentary elections. Analysts said the viability and legitimacy of the Jan. 8 elections have dimmed with her death.

Pakistan's Bhutto Assassinated

That last sentence, to me, is an understatement. Bhutto was a charismatic and influential figure. There's certainly been doubt about her ability to be independent of the military, which in Pakistan controls not only the principle armed force in the country, but also runs much of the economy. Nevertheless, as an opposition voice she must have been valuable.

I don't know much about Pakistan, but I knew who Benazir Bhutto was. That fact alone should give you some idea how important she was there.

SusanUnPC over at No Quarter has republished statements from our own Presidential candidates on this event. Senator Joe Biden has probably summed things up best:

Biden: “This is a terrible day. My heart goes out to Benazir Bhutto’s family, friends and followers.

“Like her father before her, Benazir Bhutto worked her whole life – and gave her life – to help Pakistan become a democratic, secular and modern Muslim country. She was a woman of extraordinary courage who returned to Pakistan in the face of death threats and even after an assassination attempt the day of her return, she did not flinch. It was a privilege to know her these many years and to call her a friend.

“I am convinced Ms. Bhutto would have won free and fair elections next week. The fact that she was by far Pakistan’s most popular leader underscores the fact that there is a vast, moderate majority in Pakistan that must have a clear voice in the system. Her assassination makes it all the more urgent that Pakistan return to a democratic path.

As the Forbes article notes, blame has quickly been cast on Pakistani President Musharraf:

Blame for the assassination was quickly cast on Musharraf’s government.

“Everyone is saying that this army has killed Benazir. There is going to be more bloodshed,” Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, told news media. Spokespersons for Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party accused the army of not providing adequate security for her.

Pakistan's Bhutto Assassinated

This act has certainly made Musharraf's political future much brighter, at least for the moment. How all this will play out, I have no idea. For that kind of information, Juan Cole's a good guy to turn to:

The Pakistani authorities are blaming Muslim militants for the assassination. That is possible, but everyone in Pakistan remembers that it was the military intelligence, or Inter-Services Intelligence, that promoted Muslim militancy in the two decades before September 11 as a wedge against India in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) faithful will almost certainly blame Pervez Musharraf, and sentiment here is more important than reality, whatever the reality may be. The PPP is one of two very large, long-standing grassroots political parties in Pakistan, and if its followers are radicalized by this event, it could lead to severe turmoil. Just a day before her assassination Benazir had pledged that the PPP would not allow the military to rig the upcoming January 8 parliamentary elections.


The military government of Pervez Musharraf was shaken by two big crises in 2007, one urban and one rural. The urban crisis was his interference in the rule of law and his dismissal of the supreme court chief justice. The Pakistani middle class has greatly expanded in the last seven years, as others have noted, and educated white collar people need a rule of law to conduct their business. Last June 50,000 protesters came out to defend the supreme court, even thought the military had banned rallies. The rural crisis was the attempt of a Neo-Deobandi cult made up of Pushtuns and Baluch from the north to establish themselves in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, at the Red Mosque seminary.

Pakistan's 2007 Crises Come to a Crescendo;
Benazir Assassinated

[emphasis mine; link from original]

All of which is enough to make one suspicious that even if Musharraf wasn't the one who made this happen, someone in the government probably did. Both the ISI and the military had reasons to want her out of the way. It's also possible, I suppose, that Islamists were responsible. That bunch of mysoginists are bound to be none too pleased with the idea that a woman would be running their country. Still, as Prof. Cole, wrote, there's a close relationship between the radicals and certain elements in the Pakistani government.

Cole's associate Manan Ahmed writes:

Riots are being reported in various cities. Rawalpindi is in chaos. Cable and cell phone services has been suspended in most of the country. Rumors are flying of curfews. No word from Musharraf, yet.

Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007

Sounds like rocky times are ahead in Pakistan. It's certainly a sad day. That's particularly true for Pakistan, not only for what they've lost, but for what it says about how things go for anyone who stands up to those in power there.

UPDATE (Dec. 28): Lotus offers a Who's Who in Pakistan for those not familiar with the subject.

Via Kevin Hayden, I found an article written about Bhutto a couple of months ago called Be careful of Pakistan's 'Ms. Liberty'. While it's mainly a collection of impressions and rumors, it does suggest that there was more to Benazir than met the eye. That's often how things are in politics.

Looseheadprop offers this anecdote about Benazir Bhutto as a young woman.


Anonymous said...

Excellent roundup Cujo!

It's hard to realize that Pakistan, The Country is only about 60 years old, fraught as its history has been with assassinations, insurrections, executions, coups and plotting factions.

BB knew all that, of course, and it's a measure of her bravery that she returned and stayed, even though it was clear to her that she wasn't getting adequate protection from the government.

Cujo359 said...

Hi riddenword,

The only thing I'd argue with is the word "bravery". While she had a certain quality of fearlessness, she was also smart enough to understand how dangerous her return to Pakistan would be. Yet she returned and met the crowds. Courage was something she also had, and it was part of what made her dangerous to those in power there now.