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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benazir's murder

In 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto--Benazir's father--was hanged by the government of then-military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. Zia had taken power in a coup, overthrowing Bhutto, who was Pakistan's first democratically elected Prime Minster.

Zia got lots of money from the USA.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan was declared a front-line state, a strategic ally against Soviet expansion, etc. Zia's government was funded to the tune of millions of dollars. Democracy in Pakistan could take a back seat to US interests: there was a war on.

Fast forward to December 2007. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter, Benazir, is shot and killed at a political rally while the country again wilts under a US-financed military dictatorship. General (now "Mister") Musharraf has received $10 billion in assistance since 2002. Pakistan is once again a front-line state, a strategic ally against terrorism (now fighting the "extremists" who were previously financed by the US to fight against the Soviets). Not surprisingly, democracy in Pakistan has again taken a back seat to US interests. After all, there's a war on. Again.

Isn't it odd, then, that George Bush and Condi Rice were unable to wait even a day after Benazir's death before piling on the pressure: "Elections must go forward!" or words to that effect. Many people here in Pakiston wonder: where was this pressure in 2006? Or 2005? Or 2003? Or in March, when Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, suspended the Constitution, all the while pocketing billions in US aid?

And more sinisterly, people are wondering this: With the two largest opposition parties either leaderless (PPP) or boycotting the election (PML), what's the point of having elections at all? The only conceivable outcome will be the rubber-stamping of the current regime, giving them a phony legitimacy for another five years. So an illegal, amoral and militaristic regime, backed by US money, will be here to stay. There are many here who believe that this is precisely what the Americans want. There are many precedents--Iraq in the '80s, Iran in the '60s and '70s, Latin America: make your own list.

I have no way of knowing who was responsible for Benazir's murder. "Al-Qaeda" could be anybody. "Extremists," ditto. The government today released a statement that Benazir wasn't killed by gunfire, but by knocking her head against the sunroof of her car. It sounds like a sick joke, but that's the official position. This, despite the attending surgeon's statement that she was killed by bullet wounds; despite a film that shows the assailant firing a pistol from a distance of three meters; despite the reports of eyewitnesses riding inside the car, that Benazir was hit twice by gunfire in the neck and head.

I don't know the purpose of the government's outlandish story--maybe to shift blame away from their inadequate security arrangements. Many are accusing Musharraf of complicity, and perhaps he is trying to dampen the conspiracy theorists. If that is his intent, it's failing. Someone should tell him: you don't douse suspicions by issuing patently ludicrous statements. And someone should tell Bush: you don't foster democracy by funding dictators.

Here's a link to the newspaper stories carrying the goverment's claims. and


A. Milez said...

I am almost tempted to say that I loved your post but to express my trumendous respect and admiration for your post using the words "i loved your post" would not only decrease its value but would be unfair.
Profound. Your last sentence made me speechless.


Thanks, you're very kind. I actually had to go back and see what the last line was... oh, yes. Well--yeah. I don't know if I'm profound or not, but if you keep watching something long enough, you start seeing patterns recur over and over...

I'm actually not sure now whether I was right to say that the only election result would be to rubber-stamp Musharraf. The way things are looking today, there might be a big PPP sympathy-vote surge, in which case Benazir's party would benefit. A little ghoulish, but that may be the thinking behind the PPP's demand to go ahead with elections (and they asked the PML to reverse their decision and go along with them too, which they did).

So now the govt is the one postponing now, trying to push polls back to February or later, while the opposition parties want them right away, on January 8. This is precisely the opposite of the case before Benazir got shot. I don't quite know what to make of it; I can see the arguments on both sides.

Man, things are rarely dull in this country.