Friday, 28 December 2007

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Dr.Geeta Madhavan

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto ten days ahead of the announced election albeit unfortunate does not come as a surprise. She had been receiving innumerable threats since her return to Pakistan. The fact that she survived earlier attempts did not make her immune to further attacks. However her assassination raises several issues -in the national scene of Pakistan, in the Indian context and in the US political administration.

In Pakistan, the past few months have been politically traumatic. What started with the opposition to President Musharraf by outraged lawyers spread to a broader base of dissent and the conflagration swept unrestrained through various cities in Pakistan drawing larger sections of society into it. When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from her self imposed exile on October 18 2007 she was generally viewed as the possible hope for restoration of democracy .Her pro liberal views sat well with her supporters and the impostion of emergency by President Mushraff on Nov 3 ,2007 saw her emerge stronger than ever as the leader challenging President Mushraff’s quasi military rule. When President Mushraff lifted the six-week-old state of emergency on Dec 15, 2007 , it did little to appease the Pakistanis. His revival of the Constitution to counter international criticism did not improve the situation either and the opposition parties expressed their apprehensions that there would be no free and fair elections under the existing conditions.
With the elections scheduled for 8th January 2008 Ms Bhutto , after the Washington favoured talks on power sharing deal with President Mushraff stalled , was seen as favouring alignment with the other major opposition leader Nawaz Sharif . Ms Bhutto was perceived within the establishment and outside it as a grave threat to the prevailing political set up. The extreme elements within the administration with Taliban links would certainly not want her to be in charge after her public statements and her promises to close down terror camps, private militia and even the possibility of giving India access to Jaish-e-Mohammed's Masood Azhar and LeT's Hafiz Saeed. It is not difficult to envisage the group that would not take kindly to her statements irrespective of whether she would follow through or not.
In the matter of the attack itself : undoubtedly there has been security lapse especially in the wake of two earlier attempts , Ms Bhutto herself expressed her concerns about it to the media but in the shooting plus bombing incident that cost her life the obvious question is who supported it and how did the shooter get close enough to her vehicle. The more pertinent question is of course who would benefit from the death of Ms Bhutto ? What is clear is that the assassination of Ms Bhutto will only strengthen the resolve of the supporters of democracy who will seek to project the death of Ms Bhutto as martyrdom. However there is much violence to be expected on the streets of Pakistan and President Mushraff will have no choice but to quell it by force. It will not be surprising either if he were to justify his earlier imposition of emergency as his foreknowledge of the possibility of such occurrences viz death of leaders by the extremists who he has been claiming to be acting against. He himself has survived attempts on his life and has often made public statements about hi s sincerity in quelling terrorism.

India’s concern with what was happenng across the borders are deep . Instability in the region would hamper the growing economy and also not be conducive to the image of India as an emerging Asain power. The assumption would be that India should support growing democratic movements among its neighbours .In the present climate of freindliness to the US whose political ambition is to set up democracies elsewhere, India too is expected to play a similar role in this region .The National Security Advisor Mr Narayanan however went on record in spotlighting Delhi’s scepticism mentioning for the first time what is perceived as Ms Bhutto’s lousy record with terror — she is generally regarded in Indian circles as the founder of the Taliban, along with her minister Nasrullah Babar. She had openly admitted to being the one to cement Pakistan's nuclear proliferation ties with North Korea and under her tutelage terror camps against India had flourished. It is pertinent to remember that despite all the actions of President Mushraff that created deep schisms in the Pakistan society and churned up the hatred against him , Musharraf remains India's favourite Pakistani leader. While Musharraf's popularity may be spiraling downward in his own country ; in India and in Washington, he is always perceived as a "credible interlocutor". Instability in nuclear- powered Pakistan is a serious security threat to India. The assassination of Ms Bhutto concerns India more on the security front than on the political front. After all India has come its closest to Pakistan during the rule of Pres Mushraff .
With the Kargil war of May and July 1999 the relations between the two countries had plummeted to its lowest. After General Mushraff seized power in the bloodless coup in October 1999 and became the de facto head of the government positive steps were taken on both sides to deescalate the tensions existing between the two countries. It is these turn of events that made President Mushraff proved a less hostile neighbour to India. In turn, Ms Bhutto did not allay the fears of the Indian govt. either about nuclear proliferation or the reemergence of terror camps. The crackdown on the terrorist camps by Gen. Mushraff post 9/11 by the Pressure of the US benefited India . . India had reasons to feel more secure since this crackdown for which India had been crying hoarse to the international community. The crackdowns on and closures of the camps helped stymie the flow of cross boreder terroism.

The US adminstation post 9/11 swung in total favour of Pres Mushraff starting with the shifting of the nomenclature from General Mushraff to President Mushraff to projecting him to be a natural ally in its intial “war on terrorism” campaign. It was the pressure from the US that lead to the crackdown on the innumerable terrorist training camps on the Pakistan Afghanistan border by Pres Mushraff . The closure of madrasas , hundreds of arrests of militants , the crackdown at the Red Mosque in Islamabad were all viewed by the international community as Pres Mushraff sincere commitment to the US fight against Islamic terroism. The US adminstation however censured the President when under guise of dealing with terrorsm President Mushraff declared emergeny in Pakistan in Nov 2007. Quick to distance itself from any act that was an onslaught on democracy the Bush adminstation called for quick restoration of civil rule. In response President Mushraff relinquished the uniform and stepped down as the Army Chief on Nov 28 2007 appointing Gen Kayani as the Army Chief. The response of President Mushraff to the US fiat ensured that there was no more censure from the Bush Adminstation to his policies. However Ms Bhutto was fast becoming a US favourite and her power-sharing plan with President Mushraff was activley supported ; when the talks stalled however, it is President Mushraff who fell into disfavour. The death of Ms Bhutto will lead to violence in areas largely perceived as her stronghold and Mr Shariff will now emerge as the next alternative to Mushraff. It remains to be seen whether the US adminsration will now prefer the emerging oppositon leader Sharif to Mushraff or rather bolster President Mushraff in his new role. Will a reimposition of emergency - which is bound to follow the violence after the assassination of the popular oppositon leader - be acceptable to the US as a just means to restore order and subsequently to restore democracy through elections.One thing however is vey certain , the elections will not take place on the dates announced – either by the violence that will demand its postponemnt or by Oresident Mushraff who will point to such violence as cause enough to postpone the elections till resumption of normalcy.