Editor's Comment: December 27, 2011 was the 3rd anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination and Shahid R. Siddiqi updates the essay he wrote for publication on Axis of Logic on the second anniversary of her death.
Associated Press of Pakistan reported Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani's words on this third, sad anniversary. Gilani told the Pakistani people that the life of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is "a classic study of courage, commitment towards people's welfare, and steel like determination to accomplish the goals she set before herself." The PM continued, calling Bhutto "an incarnation of steadfastness, perseverance and determination." He said that her name would be "chronicled in golden words in the annals of history."
It is curious to consider how difficult it is for human beings to speak in plain language and write honestly about the dead. Notions of "honoring the dead" seem to compel most to ignore or paint over the wrongs committed by them when they were alive. It's a sin of kindness that can be easily forgiven in personal and family atmospheres where loved ones suffer loss and are in need of comfort. But when the person who dies is a public figure such as a head of state with great responsibility for many people, it is important to look honestly at the life lived, service rendered, values exemplified and decisions made. It's important to measure the gains and failures wrought by that life for the historical record and for lessons to be learned by others. Shahid Siddiqi has done just this on the second and third anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's death.
- Les Blough, Editor
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated
three years ago, December 27, 2007
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated
South Asians are sentimental people. Over the centuries, their romanticism about revered religious deities and historical social icons has shaped their psyche of nurturing personality cults. To this when you add pervasive illiteracy and ignorance about political realities of the present times, it is not difficult to understand why some political leaders have managed to achieve their meteoric rise to power merely on the strength of their charisma.
For lack of substance, such political heroes did not last very long. They owed their fall to incompetence in management of the affairs of the state and misuse of power and often met violent fate. Their warts were posthumously removed by their hangers-on who, for their own self aggrandizement, transformed them into martyrs, clearing the way for their dynasties to rule after them. Those who survived, ensured that their parties became more like their personal “jageers” where they were surrounded by sycophants and succeeded by immediate family members.
Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, all fell victims to this dynastic rule – a throwback of the ancient monarchical system. This created turmoil and stymied the development of political institutions rather than strengthening nascent democracies, or improving people's lives and such political heirs usually failed because they leapfrogged into power without any prior political experience or acumen.
Benazir, the scion of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s political dynasty, was one of them who lived and died a controversial figure.
Starting as a novice, Benazir matured into an astute politician, enlightened and aggressive. She undoubtedly was head and shoulders above her contemporaries in Pakistan’s politics and was internationally acknowledged for being among the few women who attained the position of head of government. But was she indeed a champion of democracy as her successors and diehard supporters would like everyone to believe?
She was inspired and tutored by her father – ZAB. No wonder then that in many ways she was like him - a brilliant, charismatic, shrewd, ambitious, but self centered and autocratic politician with a visceral hatred for dissent. Bhutto championed socialism and the rights of the poor to gain popular support, when ironically he was a feudal to the core, by birth and by temperament. After climbing to power, he discarded his socialistic garb, dumped his capable compatriots and surrounded himself with political pygmies who danced to his tune. To him ruthlessness was an instrument of power. Machiavellian in mindset, he let Pakistan dismember in 1971 because in that lay the promise of his power in what remained of Pakistan.
Despite her claim, as that of her father, about commitment to the cause of the disadvantaged and the poor, she remained an elitist and never personally identified herself with this lot. She proved to be no Gandhi. She went to live in Cannes after her father's death – a place best known for being a very fashionable and expensive resort city of the French Rivera. And when came time to contest her first election she chose Lyari, Karachi, as her constituency. How ironic that she lived in Cannes - one of the richest areas of Europe, and represented the poorest of the poor community of Pakistan?
Soon after ascending to power Benazir mastered the art of manipulation and deception. She tolerated democracy because it was the only means by which she could get into power, but ruled her party and the country as an autocrat. By getting herself appointed as 'chairperson for life' – she rooted out any dissent and challenge to her authority within the party.
The home of Benazir and Zardari in Surrey, 70 miles south of London. She also had a home in Dubai and lived for periods in Cannes on the French Riviera.
Benazir was prime minister twice and both her governments were dismissed prematurely on charges of corruption and bad governance. Not only were her administrations marked by mismanagement, nepotism, social injustice and corruption, but her human rights record was dismal too. She was criticized by Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups for death squads, abductions, torture and deaths of political detainees in police custody. Political opponents were hounded, harassed and jailed. Her own brother Murtaza was murdered by the police in Karachi during her own watch as prime minister and her party government in the province. Murtaza after returning to Pakistan from exile had demanded party leadership and his share of the family fortune.
After her second fall from power, which was ordered by a man whom her own party had elected the country’s president, she sneaked out of the country without clearing her name on the charges of corruption and misuse of power. The leader of 'Pakistan People’s Party' had abandoned 'Pakistan', 'People' and her 'Party'.
In exile Benazir maintained her stranglehold over the party. She did not allow the emergence of alternate leadership for that would have meant her own political demise. It is widely known that after 2002 elections she disallowed her party's senior vice chairman and an old loyalist to accept General Musharraf's offer to become prime minister. She let the opportunity go to her opponents for fear of being marginalized and made irrelevant. In that event she also stood to lose her ability to bargain with the army her return to Pakistan. So much for her respect for democracy within her own party!
Power is addictive and Benazir was addicted to it too. Unable to reach any deal with the army on her own, her safest bet was to ride back on the shoulders of the Americans who were looking for a credible and electable partner, willing to carry forward their regional agenda. Aware of Neocons discontent with General Musharraf who, they thought, was playing a double game, she found this to be perfect moment to offer her services. She agreed to partner with those she had at one stage publicly accused of her father's 'murder'. It was now time to seek their imperial shelter and support.
Benazir used her charm in the Western capitals to cultivate the political elite and the media. She presented herself as a thoroughbred Western educated democrat and a proponent of human rights, who was struggling to restore democracy. The Americans bought the British idea of using this Muslim woman, secular, liberal and popular, willing to take on the Muslim extremists, who could succeed where Musharraf had failed, to provide a politically popular civilian face to a pro-American military government. They loved her theme song: "without her, democracy in Pakistan would be a lost cause" and cut a deal with her. In exchange for implementing the Neocon agenda she would become prime minister for the third time and will be positioned to assume complete power when it was time for General Musharraf to go.
A politically damaged and vulnerable Musharraf capitulated under American pressure and accepted a power sharing arrangement, absolving her of all corruption charges, a pre-requisite for assuming power. Her constituents continued to chant "long live Benazir" in the belief that their savior was coming back, unaware that neither they, nor the country, nor democracy ever figured in the deals she made. Insatiable urge for power did.
And then one day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while chasing power. The conspiracy that removed her from the scene will never be unearthed. She had reportedly reneged on her commitment to her benefactors. Her political heirs and sycophants lost no time in presenting her ‘larger than life’ image, exalting her as a democrat and calling her political assassination as 'martyrdom'. Had it not been un-Islamic, they might have even gone as far as granting her sainthood.
The party she inherited from her father was treated as family heirloom. Like a scene from a Shakespearean play, her widower quickly pulled out and read her 'will', questionable at best, and took control of the party. Her teenage son hastened to suffix his name with 'Bhutto' to be able to leapfrog into power, not because he deserves it but because he has borrowed that name. Her constituents, in a show of sympathy, catapulted her widower into the presidency. She had never allowed succession planning within the party and so the senior party leaders who aspired to succeed her watched helplessly as they got edged out.
The reason behind the slogans her political successors now raise that 'Benazir gave her life for restoration of democracy' and vow to keep her legacy alive, is to sanitize their own image and attain credibility. But her political record does not substantiate their claims. She neither served democracy nor human rights, neither in her life nor in her death. One hundred seventy million people (except a tiny group of diehard supporters and sycophants of her successors) are witness to the slaughter of democracy in her name in the three years that they have been in power.
No wonder William Dalrymple, author of "The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857" and a well known commentator of South Asian affairs, wrote in New York Times as early as January 4, 2008 that: "the obituaries painting her [Benazir Bhutto] as dying to save democracy distort history".