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Peril in Pakistan

Bhutto's killing shows that Musharraf is fast losing support and if not controlled, the situation may worsen further in the future, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:59 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, was a replay of incidents involving some powerful families of the subcontinent. It also indicates, perhaps, that Pakistan is a failed nation and has been unable to protect democracy or the leaders who wish to participate in a democratic process.

Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was also assassinated. Benazir’s killing is yet more proof that democratic values have not found any endorsement in Islamic countries. Barring Turkey and our part of Kashmir, no Muslim-dominated area in the world has had free-and-fair elections. And if they did, the elected representatives faced serious consequences. Most of these countries have monarchies and dictatorships. In some cases, fundamentalists have taken over and in the others, those who were elected were able to do so after getting their rivals implicated in criminal cases.

In Pakistan, every elected leader has had something to do with either the army or the Chief Martial Law Administrator. The creation of Bangladesh was a result of the reluctance of the army and Benazir’s father, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to accept the popular mandate. The electorate wanted Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to be the Prime Minister of a unified Pakistan. The rest, of course, is history, and Indira Gandhi, taking advantage of the situation, succeeded in dividing Pakistan into two and creating Bangladesh.

Many commentators have compared the Bhuttos and the Gandhis. Yes, there are similarities: Like Benazir, both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards and Rajiv was killed by a suicide bomb attack in Sriperumbudur. In Benazir’s case, she was reportedly shot and later a suicide bomber blew himself up, wiping out evidence from the scene of crime. Benazir’s father was hanged in the late 1970s on the orders of the then president, General Zia-ul-Haq, and her two brothers died under mysterious circumstances.

As things stand today, Benazir’s death will remain a mystery since assassinations leave many questions unanswered. In the US, the killing of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy are still shrouded in controversy. So is the killing of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s, though James Wilkes Booth — like Lee Harvey Oswald in the John F. Kennedy case and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan — in the Robert Kennedy case was identified as the assassin.

The first PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, along with his family died under tragic circumstances in Dhaka at the hands of the army in the mid-1970s. Solomon Bandaranaike, father of Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was the head of government in Sri Lanka in the 1950s was also killed. Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa met the same fate and there was an attempt on the life of Chandrika.

But like the Gandhis, families of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Bandaranaike and now Benazir Bhutto will continue to influence politics. Benazir’s death has propelled her son Bilawal and her controversial husband, Asif Zardari, to the political centrestage. The PPP is hopeful that the projection of Bilawal will help it gain sympathy votes as and when elections are held in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s experience with democracy has been unsatisfactory and it would be too premature to predict which way the results will go.

Events in Pakistan are always watched with interest in India and now it is for historians and analysts to figure out whether the creation of Pakistan was a great mistake. As things stand today, instability and uncertainty are two most obvious ways of describing the situation there.

Delhi-born Pervez Musharraf’s acceptability in a Punjabi-dominated society will pose further questions and the militancy along its border areas with Afghanistan will be a roadblock in the way of restoring normalcy in the country. For India, a peaceful Pakistan is extremely important because an unstable Pakistan poses a greater threat to India.

But what is happening in Pakistan needs to be viewed carefully. Benazir may have not been the most popular leader in the country during her life, but the way she died should serve as an eye-opener for the people of her country as well as her international friends, including the US. The killing shows that the administration is fast losing support at the grassroots level and if not controlled, the situation may worsen further in the future. Unfortunately, it will be the common people who will suffer. Needless to add that without the support of the common people, no government in Pakistan — even if it is backed by the army — will find it easy to survive. If that’s the case, there will always be a big question mark over Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism. Between us.