People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 01

January 06, 2008

Benazir's Dastardly Assassination


Lessons For India

Nilotpal Basu


“Arranged marriages can be a messy business designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing  undesirable flirtations  or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don’t work.  Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent desensitised by the short term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well  that each will end in misery and possibly violence.  That this is equally true in political life  became  clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Parvez Musharraf. The single strong parent in this case was a desperate State department….” of US government, of course. This is what Tariq Ali, the well-known activist, columnist and historian seems to have written for one of his upcoming pieces  before Benazir Bhutto’s dastardly assassination.


The mystery behind Benazir’s assassination  is growing  thicker by the hour.  Inspite of several witnesses  vouching that she fell down to the bullets fired by suicide bombers, when she was departing after having delivered an election address, the Pakistan government does not agree.   Subsequently, the Pakistani interior ministry  came out  with, perhaps, one of the most  outrageously unacceptable explanations.  According to them, Benazir was victim of an accidental crash of her head against the lever of the rooftop of her vehicle in trying to avoid the impact of the blast.  That later they again rubbished their own version  and claimed that  she was, actually, hit by a bullet is actually  creating an impression that  this attempt to find the assassins  is  fast degenerating into a farce.  But  this was not  all.  The same interior ministry again changed its tack and reverted back  to their original version.  If any legitimacy  remained of the Musharraf-led administration, this aspect alone would be the final nail in its coffin. 


There have been quite a bit of writing  on this great tragedy of momentous proportions.  Generally,  unlike its wont, the Indian media has been quite sober in its coverage of this tragedy.  However, the broad thrust of the western media coverage has  also left its imprint with emphasis on pinpointing the identity of the `executioner’.


But, it seems what is much more  important, and, of course relevant, is the process and the forces which has led to it.  Because, most importantly for us,  there is a very important lesson to be derived from Benazir’s assassination for our own foreign policy establishment. 


Without going much into the history of Pakistan, Indian discerning readers  would be aware that the biggest problem with processes in Pakistan lie not only in the conspicuous absence of democracy, but rather in the very absence of institutions which instrumentalise democracy.  In the mid-fifties itself, the political process in Pakistan was hijacked by a military-bureaucracy nexus.  The political parties failed to evolve and institutions failed to mature.  Whenever  this has been interrupted with a breath of freshness that had been most ruthlessly stifled by the army – more often than none backed to the hilt by the United States.  So long as the Cold War was on, the `evil’ Soviet empire provided the justification.  From Ayub Khan to Yahya Khan  and the most despotic of them all - Zia-ul Haq - formed the long list of  military  dictators who  ensured  that democracy in Pakistan do not flourish. The US was not even wary of creating, aiding, abetting  and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan through  the most dreadful  instrument of the Pakistani military dictatorship – the ISI.  In fighting the Soviet army,  the ISI was the blue-eyed boy of the CIA and the political masters in Washington. 


After the Soviet’s left, the  situation had changed radically.  9/11 showed that the creation  can turn against the master.  Parvez Musharraf  was needed to carry out the US strategic gameplan.  But as days go by, people have seen the resurgence of Taliban and the Pakistani army inextricably drawn into the vortex of the spiral of violence in North West Frontier Province  and other regions of Pak-Afghan border.  It was becoming increasingly evident that Musharraf was not having the legitimacy to  ensure  the role  that Washington was having in mind for Pakistan. 


Hence the arranged marriage that Tariq Ali speaks about.  The tragedy of Benazir Bhutto lied in the fact that she was the leader of, perhaps, the most popular political party in Pakistan. She also inherited the legacy of by far the most pro-people tradition in the otherwise elite-oriented political process of the country.  Before coming back to Pakistan, she, herself, observed that there were two most important battles going on in the country.  One, between dictatorship and democracy,  the other, between moderation and extremism. 


But what she did not understand was these two battles were not mutually exclusive, but interconnected. The forces of dictatorship are bound to reinforce  extremism and vice versa. 


There was ample evidence that this was, indeed, the reality when sections of the army were in the rebellious mood to carry out orders by Musharraf to occupy the Lal Masjid in Islamabad which had been taken over by the fundamentalist and extremist elements. 


This was also evident when, perhaps, for the first time, the popular forces of democracy fought on the streets of Pakistan with the lawyers and the students forming the major contingents.  The battle cry of democracy became synonymous with the demand for reinstatement of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikar Chaudhury.  That the forces of democratic reform could achieve this demand was something unique in the political history of Pakistan.  But, emergency was clamped.  The purported justification was fighting extremism and taming the judiciary.  It became clear that the first was more for public consumption while the second was the necessary intention.  The undermining of democracy, indeed, strengthen extremism. 


There is a need to establish the identity of the `executioner’.  But, more importantly, that undermining of democracy strengthens extremism has become tragically clear  from the grotesque end that Benazir has come to face.  And, that this, the US and other allies failed to understand, is clear from the irresponsibility they showed in brokering the `marriage’.  The western media tries to gloss over this  complicity. 


It is sad that  a person of Benazir’s physical courage would fail to comprehend the myopic political ambitions of Washington. Tragic, that she is no more.  But, that should finally force our own foreign policy establishment in India that the US, in its  blind drive for global hegemony, is betraying its lack of capacity in intervention and far less influencing of events in distant lands. Notwithstanding this failure the extent to which Washington is trying to influence the specificities of the electoral process in Pakistan only betrays their extent of desperation.