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?
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!