The West adored Benazir Bhutto. She, spoke fluent English, was educated at Harvard and Oxford and she was not an Islamic fundamentalist.
There were no frenzied, flag-burning demonstrations where the main chant was: ‘death to America’ at any of her rallies.
This endeared her to Western leaders in just the same way as it made many of her own people view her with suspicion. As far as some Pakistani voters were concerned she was ‘America ‘s choice’ at a time when anti-Americanism is at an all-time high in Pakistan. Yet her return to the international political arena is a bit of a puzzle when you think about it. After all, she was largely ignored by America’s political elite for more than a decade until about 18 months ago.
The media rarely bothered her unless it was to mock her appalling performance as the twice-failed Pakistan Prime Minister. And during that period out of the political glare, a much more intrusive spotlight focused on the seemingly endless litigation in Spanish, Swiss and British courts over allegations of corruption. But her political comeback coincided with a rise in American criticism of Pakistan.
There has been a concerted campaign in the right wing American media to portray Pakistan as yet another Muslim country which needs to be pacified and civilized by US military intervention. During my most recent visits to America I’ve switched on TV or picked up newspapers to read about those talking openly about Washington contemplating regime-change in Islamabad. Much of this came after what appeared to be the Pakistani leadership’s refusal to cooperate with American foreign policy on China, Iran, and Afghanistan.
America obviously needed a new best friend in the corridors of power. British-Pakistani historian, writer and political commentator Tariq Ali summed it up perfectly recently when he wrote: “Arranged marriages can be a messy business. Designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing undesirable flirtations or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don’t work. Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.”
Assuming Tariq Ali is right, US propelled negotiations brought back Benazir from her self-imposed exile. But far from acting like a virginal bride, Benazir waded in to the bear pit of Pakistan politics with the gusto of a champion, bare knuckle fighter. Her disastrous return, marked by the trademark destruction of a suicide bomber killing 130 of her supporters, failed to deter her. Hard as nails she continued to tackle her opponents and detractors head-on. She called for Pakistan’s feared intelligence service, the ISI, to be ‘restructured’, using the arguments of neo-cons and rightwing, US think-tanks.
And in a press conference during her house arrest in Lahore in November she went as far as asking Pakistan army officers to revolt against the army chief.
Whatever you think of Benazir or her politics, surely her assassination deserves a thorough investigation to bring those responsible to justice?
This call was seen as an attempt to destroy the all powerful military from within – this was regarded as treachery beyond belief by some in uniform. It was a brave and reckless call. After all, you don’t wander into the lair of the beast making loud threats unless you have powerful allies ready to protect you. Undaunted, she continued to lash out at her adversaries without fear or favour. She even said she would consider handing over nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadir Khan to international investigators. He is a hero to most Pakistanis. And while some were catching their breath over that announcement, she then went on to say she would allow US forces to operate inside Pakistan. Some regarded it as a killer blow. Hours before her assassination Afghanistan’s leader Hamid Karzai, singled out Bhutto – and not Nawaz Sharif or any other political rivals – for a meeting after ending his official engagements in Islamabad. This was interpreted by many as a clear signal from Karzai to all Pakistanis, and especially to his rival President Pervez Musharraf, that he was endorsing Washington’s darling. Many Pakistanis do not trust Karzai and there are those who regard him as a US installed puppet.
America’s Bush Administration must have looked on with admiration as it continued to nudge and push Benazir to the abyss. May be it was pay back time since it was the United States which actively aided Benazir’s rise to power in Pakistan in 1988. Of course that political meddling was discreet and confined to diplomatic channels and was never made public. This time, however, the support was so blatant it might even have marked her for assassination. United States Ambassador Anne Patterson and British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley were extremely vocal as they spurred on Benazir and other Pakistani politicians towards what was looking like an extremely dodgy election. Even US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher were shouting their encouragement from the wings along with their boss George W Bush and other western leaders.
But they are all silent now, aren’t they?
I don’t hear any of them screaming for the United Nations to hold an investigation into the assassination of Benazir, and yet we all heard their calls for an international investigation when former Lebanese leader Rafik Al-Hariri was assassinated. Whatever you think of Benazir or her politics, surely her assassination deserves a thorough investigation to bring those responsible to justice? Sending in a couple of detectives from Scotland Yard does not do justice to her memory or, more importantly, the people of Pakistan. They, above anyone else, need closure to this terrible chapter in their history.
Was Washington planning a regime change? If so, then it has seriously backfired with Benazir being sacrificed as a martyr on the altar of Uncle Sam. That makes the Bush Administration just as guilty as the assassin who pulled the trigger on December 27 2007.