Published December 24, 2008

A Grim Year after Benazir Bhutto


 Dr. Syed Farooq Hasnat

 A year ago, two times elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was brutally murdered on December 27, 2007, while coming back from an energetic election gathering in Rawalpindi. She had survived a near miss assassination attempt in Karachi on October 18th  of the same year, where around 140 of her supporters died and many more injured. She had returned after an eight-year of self-imposed exile.  

 Benazir saw a well planned conspiracy behind the Karachi attack and repeatedly pointed out to an unusual act of turning off the street lights, while her procession approached a certain point. She had called for an inquiry of the incident and also tried to register the First Information Report (FIR) with the concerned police station. Her request was denied by the Musharraf government and instead a government compliant was launched, which as according to the Pakistani laws and rules was highly unusual.

 She also wrote a letter to the military ruler, naming four persons whom she thought might be responsible for attack on her. With the exception of one, all others were close allies and part of the Musharraf regime. However, the military ruler hurriedly blamed the warring tribes of North Waziristan and Al Qaeda for the attack, a feat which he repeated after her assassination.

 In another development, she wrote an email to her spokesman Mark Siegel. In that she explicitly suspected Musharraf for hatching a plot to kill her. She said that if anything happened to her, Musharraf will be responsible. She wrote, “I wld [sic] hold Musharaf [sic] responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions”. This email was read by Wolf Blitzer on CNN “The Situation Rooms”, soon after her assassination.

 Since her tragic assassination, she has been symbolically honored by her husband and the party which rules in the center and three provinces. In the Punjab it is part of the coalition government but exerts itself enough through the federally appointed governor. Some of the symbolic gestures include the naming of the Islamabad airport, the Rawalpindi main road and a hospital after her. On her first anniversary the postal department has issued a 10-rupee coin with her portrait and inscription of “Daughter of the East (in Urdu).

 On the contrary, after her assignation, no FIR has been registered till today, by Benazir’s family or by her party, nor has there been any serious attempt to investigate her assassination, although all the intelligence agencies are under the control of President Asif Ali Zardari. A request has been made to the United Nations to probe the matter, which many view it as an eye wash and non productive.

 When it comes to real values and convictions in which she believed, they are far from being realized. The question that comes to the mind of every Pakistani is the kind of Pakistan she has left and what could have been different if she had been the Prime Minister.

 No one can deny that there would have been a marked difference, for the better, both in style and content of the governance - visibly far better, from what we are witnessing today.

 The Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would have been restored the first day of the commencement of the newly elected parliament and that notorious 17th amendment in the constitution repealed, long ago.

 She wrote in her book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, that “the removal of the chief justice “became the catalyst to trigger pent-up fury against General Musharraf’s regime”, and that the PPP and others joined the movement to restore the chief justice to frustrate attempts to sabotage democracy and the elections.  

 If Benazir Bhutto had been the Prime Minister, certainly the language and acts of her cabinet would have been much more dignified and less embarrassing, and above all, the discrepancy in the statements of the ministers avoided under the leadership of more aware and educated head of the government.  

 It is alleged that she came back to Pakistan from exile as a result of an understanding with the military dictator Musharraf, brokered by the western countries. There is also enough evidence to argue that after she settled down in an entirely transformed Pakistan, she started to move away from Musharraf, to his utter annoyance and worked for more cooperation with the political forces. This was the time when she successfully pleaded with Nawaz Sharif to participate in the forthcoming elections, to frustrate plans for rigging the elections, which would have perpetuated Musharraf’s rule.

 During her exile she had matured to be a statesman of some caliber, admitting that mistakes were made during her two tenures as Prime Minister. Both occasions were marred by bad governance, corruption and malice against her political rivals.

 But now, she had vouched to work with the political forces to consolidate democracy and fair play in the country. In this respect Charter of Democracy of May 2006 was signed with her main rival Nawaz Sharif. The charter provided a roadmap for a vibrant new Pakistan, with institution building for the promotion of democracy.  So far, not even a single clause of the charter has been implemented by her widow, Mr. Asif Zardari.

 Unfortunately, the custodians of Benazir Bhutto’s legacy are those who do not comprehend the kind of a vision she had in her mind when she returned to Pakistan, only to be removed from the sight.

 Dr. Farooq Hasnat is a scholar at an American based think tank called The Middle East Institute. Dr. Hasnat served as a Professor at the University of Jordan's Institute for Strategic Studies, as a researcher at the University of Innsbruck (Austria), and as a course coordinator for the Pakistan.