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Benazir Bhutto: What if she had not been killed?

Posted on December 27, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, People, Politics
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Adil Najam

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated one year ago today, December 27.

I remember being in utter shock when I first heard that news. In some ways I am still in shock. Indeed, as our wall of newspaper covers showed, the whole world was in shock. That shock, I believe, is also still alive.

And, yet, so much – so very much – has changed. An elected government holds power. Benazir Bhutto’s arch-nemesis Gen. Pervez Musharraf is no longer President of Pakistan. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, is. We still do not know who was behind her death, but speculation remains rife. The economy remains in nosedive. An energy crisis is upon us. One Chief Justice still awaits reinstatement. Another is embroiled in scandal. War talk with India on the East is the rage. Drones pound us on the West. And Pakistan continues to lose both territory and citizens to the extremists who continue to wage a war within Pakistan and on Pakistan. Most of all, anger and angst still define the social disposition.




None of this is new. As a re-reading of our review of 2007 would show there is no evidence that 2008 was any more depressing than 2007 was. It just feels that way. Good things have happened (including elections) but so many bad things have piled on that it becomes difficult to remember what they were. Each new day brings new headlines of death, depression and despondency. And each headline chips away at the national psyche. The angst compounds within us. Gloom adds to gloom and the emergent analysis becomes ever more gloomy.

Speculative it surely is, but even if only for speculation’s sake, what if she had not been killed on that fateful day a year ago?

What if she had survived the attack? Would things have been different? Would the nature of the government she would have formed or run have been different from Mr. Zardari’s government? Would Gen. Musharraf’s fate have been different? Would Justice Iftikhar’s fate have been different? Would the pressure on Pakistan from abroad have been different? Would Pakistan’s response to extremists have been different? All of this, of course, assumes that she would have won the elections and assumed power had she lived. But, would even that have been so?

Time line for the Bhutto family

I do not know the answers to any of these. No one does. But a part of me would like to believe (for the sake of my own sanity) that things in Pakistan would, indeed, have been different – and better – if she had not been killed, even if nothing else had been any different from what it is today. Simply, because the blot of her assassination would have been one less stain for our collective soul to cleanse off. And she would still be there to give hope to at least a few!

45 comments posted

Comment Pages: [6] 5 4 3 2 1 » Show All

  1. anon says:
    February 14th, 2010 10:28 am

    Dear Meengla,

    Beautiful post! :-)

  2. Umar Akbar says:
    January 4th, 2009 4:10 pm

    Dear Aqil,

    Beautiful post! :-)

  3. Aqil says:
    January 1st, 2009 11:54 pm

    @meengla and eidee man:

    Regardless of what we think and which possibilities we consider inconceivable or ‘petty minded,’ any investigation that does not include fully probing people like Musharraf, Zardari and Rehman Malik will lack credibility for obvious reasons. Let me just leave it at that.

    Response to Meengla’s other points:

    It’s a gross oversimplification of the entire debate to divide everything into two extremes. That either one is in favour of the political process or against it. And that if one favours the political process, then one should be sympathetic to the PPP. Whenever there is any criticism directed at the PPP, you PPP valas provide a crash course on the importance of sticking to the process and in this way, confuse the issue at hand by getting off into this tangent.

    You are right that Zardari is not the only one involved in corruption, but you could have left it at that instead of trying to prove that he is not guilty. There is no point in saying that he could not be convicted even after 9 years of persecution. There was a swiss ruling against him, and Zardari could not get the swiss case off his back untill the NRO came to his rescue. For several years, the PPP strongly denied that Zardari owned the surrey palace, only for them to admit it later:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/aug/21/pakistan.benazirbhutto
    So lets stop hiding behind the lame defense that no charges against them could be proved.

    As for the many other people who have not faced any accountability whatsoever, the answer is to make institutions like the judiciary and NAB strong and independent and work for accountability instead of refusing to restore the judiciary, hiding behind the NRO, finishing off the NAB, and having clowns like Fauzia Wahab regularly give ridiculous arguments against the need for a strong accountability system in order to protect the likes of Zardari.

    Lastly, people shouldn’t be asked to mute their criticism and silently wait for the next elections. Criticism is a part of democracy and PPP and its supporters should learn to live with it. Democracy is called a process for a reason; it involves constantly keeping an eye on the govt and judging its performance.

  4. meengla says:
    January 1st, 2009 2:48 pm

    @Umar Akbar and Aqil,
    1) I consciously used ‘mere corruption’ and I knew I would open myself to attack. But you need to read my sentence/context in its entirety: I am trying to say that, while there are many, many ‘corrupt’ khaki/non-khaki persons in Pakistan in last 3 decades, it is the leaders of the PPP who are ruthlessly targeted in assassination/plots. It is not a trivial point and one must wonder as to why? My answer is that the PPP remains the single most powerful anti-establishment force in Pakistan despite the current ‘working relationship’ with the military. It is still being called ‘the traitor party’ and ‘security risk’. AAZ is still under threat of assassination more than any other person in Pakistan.
    2) To @EideeMan’s defense I would say that he is consistently anti-Zardari. But both him and I do not want to waste our energy postulating about almost non-sense theories about AAZ automatically becomes the prime suspect simply because he is the prime beneficiary. And what benefits Zardari has derived now! He is very likely to be killed before very long. My advice to him would be to pack up and enjoy the Geisha Restaurant in Manhattan using his alleged $1.5 BILLION. It ain’t worth it.
    3) Indeed, by becoming the President of Pakistan and by not doing away with the illegal powers enjoyed by the Presidency AAZ is making the parliament and PMShip play the second fiddle. Yet I will hold my judgment until at least the summer of 2009 when the PPP will get a sizable Senators to effect legislation.
    4) Yes, I support the PPP govt. but I would also support if Nawaz Sharif comes to power. I am not expecting any miracles from either the PPP nor would I expect those from NS. But I know one thing: The Khakis are even worse choice because they cannot be held accountable for ANY of their actions.
    5) In my opinion, with a free media, politicians cannot get away with their shenanigans of the ’90s again. The political process will eventually mature enough after repeated elections to the point where Pakistan will have a functioning democracy. It will take time but there is no other way forward.
    6) Pakistani politicians are personally less corrupt than the court-convicted Indian ruling class. But despite the warts in Indian political class the Indian democracy has still managed to deliver more to its people than the uncorrupt, yet poisonous, influence of the Generals in Pakistan. Dr. Farrukh Saleem of ‘The News’ wrote a beautiful piece some months ago titled, something like, ‘Democracy, xx miles from Islamabad’.
    7) So, yes, it is the ‘system’, the ‘process’ where my sympathies are. If PPP blunders too much then will and must lose the next elections. The next govt. is likely to be of PMLN. If they, too, don’t ‘deliver’ then may be next time it would be the PPP or even Imran Khan’s Tehreek e Insaaf. All those are acceptable to me.
    8) The PPP govt. is already on shaky ground. The real power, as could be seen during the Mumbai crises, is still held by the Generals. If PPP tries to become too ‘principled’ then it will lose power the 4th time due to the Generals in 3 decades.
    9) NRO benefited a large number of people–not just AAZ. In case of AAZ, despite 9 years of jail, torture, and media trial, NOTHING held true to make convictions in Pakistani courts.
    10) What made it possible to allow NS back in Pakistan after illegally turned back from the ISB Airport only a few weeks before? Nothing to do with any ‘compromise’? I find it hard to believe. Where are the charges against him? Why the media trial of only PPP politicians?

  5. Eidee Man says:
    December 31st, 2008 10:02 pm

    Aqil,
    if you think I spend time defending Zardari, then I’m afraid you’ve never read any of my comments carefully.

    You are well within your rights to criticize Benazir, Zardari, etc on any point you want. But, I personally find your suspicion of Zardari’s involvement in her murder rather petty and unbecoming of a person with your level of education.

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