Perspectives on Pakistan
One year on, same questions swirl around Bhutto’s murder
The anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has reminded everyone just how much we still don’t know about her killing in a suicide gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi on Dec. 27, 2007.
The same questions that transfixed the shocked country in the days after her death, such as why was the crime scene hosed down so quickly, was she killed when the blast smashed her head into the lever on her vehicle’s escape hatch or by a bullet, why was no autopsy performed, are again being raised.
Investigations by the previous government and the U.S. CIA accused an al Qaeda-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud, of killing Bhutto, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.
That would seem logical enough but, as we’ve seen with the Mumbai attacks, any militant attack on or linked to Pakistan seems to raise questions about possible links to old allies in the powerful intelligence services.
The News newspaper published a report citing unidentified people privy to the investigations as saying unravelling the mystery could led to “startling revelations … with serious political implications”.
Irfan Husain, writing in Dawn, said Bhutto was unacceptable to both the military establishment and the militants, though for different reasons.
“For the military establishment, she was simply unacceptable because she was a Bhutto and a Sindhi … the jihadis and their sponsors did not want to face a popular leader who was against everything they stood for,” Husain said.
“Benazir Bhutto understood that this was a war to the end, and no negotiated settlement was possible with a foe that wanted to impose its stone-age views on the rest of us.”
Not surprisingly, the anniversary of Bhutto’s murder has also raised a lot of “what if” and “what next” questions.
Veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai believes Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would not have won the general election without the sympathy vote her murder generated.
Instead, Yusufzai says in a column in the News the election would have brought a balance of power between the PPP and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, which would have been a better arrangement for the country.
Of course, Bhutto’s death also catapulted her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, into power and the presidency after former army chief Pervez Musharraf stepped down in August.
Journalist Shaheen Sehbai wrote a provocative piece in the News newspaper entitled “Asif Zardari given enough rope to hang imself” looking at how the PPP has fared and how long Zardari and his government would remain in power.
He says “the Zardari group” has taken over Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party “outmanoeuvring the others through opportunities created by circumstances followed up cleverly by a web of deceit, chicanery and in some specific cases simple lies and cheating”.
He doesn’t think the Zaradri-led set up will last long.
“How and on what issue the party cracks up is moot, but pressure from the opposition, a wink from the right quarters and one major blunder by Zardari is all it will take.”
A former journalist and Zardari loyalist, Aniq Zafar, published a rebuttal in the same newspaper the next day denouncing what he said was an unwarranted attack on Zardari and adding: “The Zardari is nothing but the Benazir Bhutto group.”
Bhutto’s old friend, Mark Siegel, told the Daily Times he disregarded the “speculations” over Bhutto’s death, which he said was obviously an attempt to create instability.
On her legacy, Siegel said: “She was the voice of modern Islam; she was a symbol of what a Muslim woman can accomplish; she was a modern force, she was committed to technologically moving the country to the 21st century; she was committed to human rights, student unions, labour unions, electrification of villages; these were the steps towards modern Pakistan. Her legacy would be a moderate tolerant Pakistan.”