By Tariq Ali
Even those of us sharply critical of Benazir Bhutto's behaviour
and policies - both while she was in office and more recently
- are stunned and angered by her death. Indignation and fear stalk
the country once again.
An odd coexistence of military despotism and anarchy created
the conditions leading to her assassination in Rawalpindi yesterday.
In the past, military rule was designed to preserve order - and
did so for a few years. No longer. Today it creates disorder and
promotes lawlessness. How else can one explain the sacking of
the chief justice and eight other judges of the country's supreme
court for attempting to hold the government's intelligence agencies
and the police accountable to courts of law? Their replacements
lack the backbone to do anything, let alone conduct a proper inquest
into the misdeeds of the agencies to uncover the truth behind
organised killing of a major political leader.
How can Pakistan today be anything but a conflagration of despair?
It is assumed that the killers were jihadi fanatics. This may
well be true, but were they acting on their own?
Benazir, according to those close to her, had been tempted to
boycott the fake elections, but she lacked the political courage
to defy Washington. She had plenty of physical courage, and refused
to be cowed by threats from local opponents. She had been addressing
an election rally in Liaquat Bagh. This is a popular space named
after the country's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, who
was killed by an assassin in 1953. The killer, Said Akbar, was
immediately shot dead on the orders of a police officer involved
in the plot. Not far from here, there once stood a colonial structure
where nationalists were imprisoned. This was Rawalpindi jail.
It was here that Benazir's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged
in April 1979. The military tyrant responsible for his judicial
murder made sure the site of the tragedy was destroyed as well.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's death poisoned relations between his Pakistan
People's party and the army. Party activists, particularly in
the province of Sind, were brutally tortured, humiliated and,
sometimes, disappeared or killed.
Pakistan's turbulent history, a result of continuous military
rule and unpopular global alliances, confronts the ruling elite
now with serious choices. They appear to have no positive aims.
The overwhelming majority of the country disapproves of the government's
foreign policy. They are angered by its lack of a serious domestic
policy except for further enriching a callous and greedy elite
that includes a swollen, parasitic military. Now they watch helplessly
as politicians are shot dead in front of them.
Benazir had survived the bomb blast yesterday but was felled
by bullets fired at her car. The assassins, mindful of their failure
in Karachi a month ago, had taken out a double insurance this
time. They wanted her dead. It is impossible for even a rigged
election to take place now. It will have to be postponed, and
the military high command is no doubt contemplating another dose
of army rule if the situation gets worse, which could easily happen.
What has happened is a multilayered tragedy. It's a tragedy for
a country on a road to more disasters. Torrents and foaming cataracts
lie ahead. And it is a personal tragedy. The house of Bhutto has
lost another member. Father, two sons and now a daughter have
all died unnatural deaths.
I first met Benazir at her father's house in Karachi when she
was a fun-loving teenager, and later at Oxford. She was not a
natural politician and had always wanted to be a diplomat, but
history and personal tragedy pushed in the other direction. Her
father's death transformed her. She had become a new person, determined
to take on
the military dictator of that time. She had moved to a tiny flat
in London, where we would endlessly discuss the future of the
She would agree that land reforms, mass education programmes,
a health service and an independent foreign policy were positive
constructive aims and crucial if the country was to be saved from
the vultures in and out of uniform. Her constituency was the poor,
and she was proud of the fact.
She changed again after becoming prime minister. In the early
days, we would argue and in response to my numerous complaints
- all she would say was that the world had changed. She couldn't
be on the "wrong side" of history. And so, like many
others, she made her peace with Washington. It was this that finally
led to the deal with Musharraf and her return home after more
than a decade in exile. On a number of occasions she told me that
she did not fear death. It was one of the dangers of playing politics
It is difficult to imagine any good coming out of this tragedy,
but there is one possibility. Pakistan desperately needs a political
party that can speak for the social needs of a bulk of the people.
The People's party founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was built by
the activists of the only popular mass movement the country has
students, peasants and workers who fought for three months in
1968-69 to topple the country's first military dictator. They
saw it as their party, and that feeling persists in some parts
of the country to this day, despite everything.
Benazir's horrific death should give her colleagues pause for
reflection. To be dependent on a person or a family may be necessary
at certain times, but it is a structural weakness, not a strength
for a political organisation. The People's party needs to be refounded
as a modern and democratic organisation, open to honest debate
and discussion, defending social and human rights, uniting the
disparate groups and individuals in Pakistan desperate for any
halfway decent alternative, and coming forward with concrete proposals
to stabilise occupied and war-torn Afghanistan. This can and should
be done. The Bhutto family should not be asked for any more sacrifices.