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Legacy of Benazir Bhutto

27 December 2013 marks the sixth death anniversary of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the visionary leader, who resisted with courage the agenda of pushing Pakistan to a theocratic State incapable of progressing towards an egalitarian and democratic polity. In recognition of her great services, she was awarded posthumously the prestigious UN Human Rights Award on December 10, 2008. The UN Human Rights Award is given every five years. The 2008 award was special as it coincided with 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Since the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto on 27 December 2007, Pakistan has been continuously moving towards dreadful conflicts and grave crises, confirming that country lacks competent and devoted leadership that can pull it out of politico-socio-economic mess. The five-year (mis)rule of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) under Asif Ali Zardari substantially damaged the party-corruption reached new heights, mal-administration spread monstrously, law and order deteriorated to unthinkable level, institutional confrontations accelerated and economic woes of people multiplied, just to mention a few. The trend set by PPP is continuing unabated-Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf (PTI) have also proved that they have neither pragmatic programmes nor capable people to solve the fundamental problems faced by Pakistan and its people. In today’s Pakistan there is not a single leader that matches the vision and determination of Benazir to regain what we have lost domestically and internationally.

It is shameful that state machinery has utterly failed to unveil the real hands behind her assassination even after a lapse of six years. The valiant struggle waged by Benazir to counter the forces of obscurantism-working on the dictates of foreign masters-culminated in losing life, but earned her immortality, now even her worst critics call her shaheed (martyr). Her removal from the political scene was aimed at installing certain “desirable elements” for converting Pakistan into a hub of militancy to threaten the neighbours, especially democratic India and socialist China. The sad killing of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior and respected leader of Awami National party (ANP) and nine others in Peshawar on December 22, 2012 was continuity of the same ‘Grand Design’-making State subservient to militants. PTI that has been advocating “truce” with terrorists also received their wrath, losing Law Minister Israrullah Gandapur and many others, after sharing power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Jamaat-e-Islami.

Analysts and scholars have yet not examined assassination of Benazir from the perspective of New Great Game unleashed by powers of the day in this region. In her last book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy & the West, Benazir Bhutto tried to trace “the roots, causes, and potential solutions to the crisis within the Muslim world and the crisis between the Muslim World and the West”. Benazir, in this work has unveiled the agenda of neo-colonialists and their proxy-the so-called Islamic militants. Quoting extensively from Al Qur’an that Islam is a religion of peace, she laments “it has been brutally abused by a handful of extremists throughout the Muslim history to create chaos and disorder”. She traces the factors behind militant Islam and exposes the colonial and neo-colonial forces promoting and encouraging it. These views must have annoyed the forces that want to keep the Muslim World in dark ages for their nefarious designs. These forces using their proxy-religious fanatics-get rid of her.

In the wake of Benazir’s ruthless assassination-still shrouded in mystery-Pakistan returned to ‘democracy’ but internal security threats assumed multiple dimensions. Sachithanandam Sathananthan, a PhD from the University of Cambridge, in his paper, The Great Game Continues, notes with concern that Pakistani liberals are yet to discover onslaught of “Late Neo-colonialism”. His argument is that removal of Benazir and thereafter, easily maneuvered victory for Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential election “brought to a high point the tortuous process of regime change in Pakistan. Anyone who has followed the ‘colour revolutions’ that installed pro-American rulers in Georgia (Rose Revolution, 2003), Ukraine (Orange Revolution, 2004) and Kyrgyzstan (Tulip Revolution, 2005) could surely not have missed the tell-tale signs”.

The theory propounded by Dr Sachithanandam got credence as later events proved-Benazir’s assassination paved way for direct CIA’s operations in the country for which Zardari and Rehman Malik allegedly acted as accomplices. Dr Sachithanandam highlighted that “the earliest foreboding surfaced in the backroom manoeuvres by United States and British intelligence services to engineer panic about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets”. It was a repeat of the duplicitous hysteria they generated over non-existent weapons of mass destruction that Iraq allegedly possessed. A carefully worded article, co-authored by former State Department officials Richard L. Armitage and Kara L. Bue, signalled the shift in US policy. After formally acknowledging the then President Pervez Musharraf’s many achievements, the authors continued: ‘much remains to be accomplished, particularly in terms of democratisation. Pakistan must…eliminate the home-grown jihadists…And…it must prove itself a reliable partner on technology transfer and nuclear non-proliferation.’ And the denouement: ‘We believe General Musharraf…deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border.’ Translation: Musharraf has to go.

It was ‘Washington’s renewed interest’ in Asif Ali Zardari and Rehman Malik and not Benazir that forced Musharraf-once a close ally of Bush-to offer firm opposition to US Late Neo-colonialism to ravage Pakistan. According to Dr. Sachithanandam, “politically challenged Pakistani liberals – a motley crowd that includes members of human rights and civil liberties organisations, journalists, analysts, lawyers and assorted professionals-are utterly incapable of comprehending the geo-strategic context in which Musharraf maneuvered to defend Pakistan’s interest”. So they slandered him an ‘American puppet’, alleging he caved in to US pressure and withdrew support to the Afghan Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 although in fact “he removed one excuse for the Bush Administration to ‘bomb Pakistan into stone age’, as a senior State Department official had threatened”.

Now the same forces want to punish Musharraf using Nawaz as tool as Zia was used to hang Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. As part of New Great Game, they keep on creating puppets and dumping them as they invent and slay enemies-‘Inventing and slaying enemies’, Business Recorder, May 16, 2009. Musharraf, an insider of New Great Game, returned to Pakistan on 24 March 2013 after nearly four years of self-imposed exile to contest elections despite the possibility of arrest and death threats from the Taliban. His agenda included restoring economy and countering Jihadi outfits, without realising that the militants openly expressed confidence in Nawaz Sharif and Syed Munawwar Hasan of Jamaat-e-Islami as desired by their friends in Washington and elsewhere.

The question that perplexes the many continuously is why Benazir decided to join hands with Musharraf. The answer is simple: to counter militants supported by certain vested interests. American discomfort with Musharraf was palpable by late 2003, after he dodged committing Pakistani troops to prop up the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. When he offered to cooperate under the auspices of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), naïve Pakistani media and analysts lunged for his jugular, condemning him once again for succumbing to US demands. But in fact he nimbly side-stepped American demands: he calculated that diverse ideological stances of the 57 Muslim member-counties would not allow the OIC to jointly initiate such controversial action and therefore Pakistan’s participation could not arise, which proved correct.

Benazir was fully aware of the fact that Bush Administration had been becoming increasingly hostile to Musharraf’s determination to prioritise Pakistan’s interests when steering the ship of the state through the choppy waters of the unfolding New Great Game, which the West – led by the US – has been manoeuvring to contain growing Russian and Chinese influences in Central and West Asia. She decided to work with Musharraf, precisely for resisting this agenda of Pakistan-hostile forces. She became the prime target of these forces and was eliminated. Since then all events prove that under the “chosen” leadership, Pakistan is moving towards a complete disaster. Like his predecessor, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Interior Minister, keeps on reminding us of his “dedication to fight “terrorists” but there is no concrete effort till today as was the case in the five years of PPP to contain them, let alone uprooting networks by cutting their financial supports from inside and outside.

Benazir gave her life for resisting the designs of those who support militants to wreck Pakistan providing them pretext to intervene physically in the name of safeguarding nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, however, her own party stalwarts betrayed her-security in-charge Rehman Malik along with others fled the scene. Vehicle was intentionally diverted from given route. Those inside also did not refrain her from waiving the workers through the sunroof of bomb-proof vehicle. The UN Commission, in its report released on 16th April 2010, says that the country’s President at the time of the assassination, General Pervez Musharraf, was aware of and tracking the many threats against Benazir. But he “did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralising them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats”. The report also claims that the security arrangements made by the PPP were also ill-organised and characterised by a profound lack of professionalism.

Though Rehman Malik claims that he was not an adviser on physical security, the letters he wrote to authorities and his liaison role with security and intelligence agencies showed that he was deeply involved in the overall management of Benazir’s security. The rapid departure of the only back-up vehicle in which Malik and other PPP leaders drove away was a serious security lapse. Rehman Malik has been accused of fleeing the scene along with Babar Awan, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia (retd), Farhatullah Babar and driver Khizer in a car, which was the back-up vehicle for Benazir in case she wanted to use it in an emergency. Former protocol officer to Benazir, Muhammad Aslam lodged a murder case against Pervez Musharraf, Pervaiz Elahi, former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Chief, Ijaz Shah, two serving ministers and eight police and administration officials for their alleged involvement in Benazir’s assassination. He also nominated Rehman Malik and others in the case. Aslam also named the then interior minister Lt-Gen Hamid Nawaz (retd), Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema (retd), Irfan Elahi, Saud Aziz, Yaseen Farooq and Khurram Shahzad accusing them of direct or indirect involvement in the conspiracy to kill Benazir. He also contended that Malik and Awan forced the driver of the back-up car to leave immediately. These allegations have yet not been investigated properly.

Heraldo Munoz, the lead United Nations (UN) investigator, assigned probe into Benazir’s assassination, in his book ‘Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan’, doubts that the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) independently carried out the attack. He does not discount suspicions about involvement of intelligence operatives in her murder and later covering up of evidence. He expresses fears that the murder would remain unsolved because of absence of both capacity and willingness of the government and courts to solve the case. “In Bhutto’s case, it would seem that the village assassinated her: Al Qaeda gave the order; the Pakistani Taliban executed the attack, possibly backed or at least encouraged by elements of the establishment; the Musharraf government facilitated the crime through its negligence; local senior policemen attempted a cover-up; Bhutto’s lead security team failed to properly safeguard her; and most Pakistani political actors would rather turn the page than continue investigating who was behind her assassination,” Munoz observes.

The murderers of Benazir have failed to achieve their purpose as her legacy continues. As leader of the poor and dispossessed, she will always live in their hearts. Workers of PPP need to defeat enemies in their ranks and continue her legacy of resisting the forces engaged in New Great Game aims at controlling South Asian and Central Asian resources through the bogey of Islamic militants with the ultimate objective of containing China and getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

(The writers, lawyers, researchers, historians and authors of numerous books, are Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq, "Legacy of Benazir Bhutto," Business recorder. 2013-12-27.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , Political leaders , Extremist groups , Reconciliation policy , Human rights , Assassination-Benazir , Threats-Taliban , Taliban , Asif Zardari , Benazir Bhutto , Pakistan