Round Up IX

I am still terribly sad – not just for her but for the nation of Pakistan.

She was buried, in the mausoleum of her father. It is still unclear how she died but the explanations from the Pakistani government grow ridiculous by the minute.

Nawaz Sharif has announced that he will boycott the elections. PPP is going into 40 days of mourning. MQM and the Jamaat has yet to announce their intentions. The goverment is to call an All Party Conference to discuss the once future elections.

I admit that even though I have been talking to reporters nonstop yesterday, I have little analysis to offer but you can listen to Tariq Ali – and me in a supporting role – on Democracy Now!, from this morning and get a sense. This lengthy profile by Tariq Ali in the LRB should also have your attention.

John Moore’s photo-report is quite amazing. If anyone knows about the text or audio of her speech at Liaqut Bagh, please drop me a line.

Finally, Naim Sahib forwarded his self-termed “angry” analysis. It lies below the fold.

Almost every report or commentary on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination that I have seen or heard today included in its first or second sentence: ‘it was not unexpected.’

The commentators who began by saying that the assassination was not unexpected offer various suspected assassins: Extremist Muslims, if they are from the West; Extremist Muslims, if they are English language journalists in Pakistan; Pervez Musharraf and his coterie, if the writer is a member of the PPP. I didn’t read any Urdu journal today but I can guess fairly assuredly that their list of suspects would go like this: Pakistani Army and the CIA, if the journalist is writing in Urdu, but has a moderate bent of mind; Israel and the CIA, if the Urdu journalist is not concerned with moderation; and Israel, India, and the CIA, if the journalist really knows his niche audience. I didn’t bother to find out what the White House said, for I know their response too: the Terrorists did it. I couldn’t avoid hearing the Democrat candidates in one report, they kept saying: it was the Alkeda. No matter who the suspect party, the motive in every case was understood to be the same: ‘They’ wished to cause instability in Pakistan. The American pundits were, naturally, more concerned with its effect on the GWOT.

Then there was the NPR reporter this afternoon who began his report by saying, ‘Pakistan was never a place of stability. ’
The report on PBS’ Lehrer Report was perhaps the most nauseating: ‘self-imposed exile’ (as if the cases in Pakistani courts and the verdict of the Swiss court mean nothing), ‘Oxford and Harvard educated’, ‘the most popular leader in Pakistan’, her ‘biographer’ bemoaning the curse of the Bhuttos, and on and on.

As they say in India on such occasions: ‘What to do, bha’i?’

Pakistan was a reasonably stable state for four years after it came into existence in 1947, but then it fell victim to the ambitions of some of its civilian and military leaders and the machinations of the equally ambitious and arrogant Cold War warriors in Washington. If the BBC and CNN reporters had bothered to ask they would have found out that Benazir Bhutto was killed at the same place where Pakistan’s first, democratically chosen Prime Minister had been killed. The park’s name was changed from Nishtar Park to Liaquat Bagh in his honour. That mystery of that assassination was never resolved, but in just a few days the valiantly struggling democracy of Pakistan became a burgeoning playground for one military dictator after another, each leaning ever closer to Washington in exchange for ever increasing rewards. When the Pakistani army threw up a general who wanted to turn Pakistan into a Muslim theocracy, Washington’s affection did not decrease. Well, actually, it did diminish for a short while. But then the revolution in Iran kicked the Shah out, while the Russians went blundering in into Afghanistan. The Cold War warriors went into high gear, and embraced the kohl-eyed General Ziaul Haq as their hero, as a brother soldier in the great war against the Red Menace, just as they embraced Saddam Husain as fellow soldier in the great war against Khomeini’s Iran. Just pause for a moment to think. Someone in Washington decided to support Zia because he could use his mullahs to train fanatic jihadists to send into Afghanistan, while choosing at the same time a swaggering secular general to fight the mullahs in Iran. Wouldn’t we like to know what they were smoking? Wouldn’t we like to know what they were smoking more recently when they compelled Musharraf to have the court cases against her dropped, anointed her as the saviour of Democracy, and sent her to Pakistan? Are they, too, now saying, it was not unexpected? And if they are, why did they send her, and who will they send in next?

In my frankly jaundiced view, any person’s death is a certain bet. She had survived the first attack because she had left the top deck and gone below. She could have survived again, if she had remained seated inside, or if she had taken a swift drive away from the place, and her party workers had cleared the street for it. Who can say what would have happened?

Is her death a tragic event? Yes, indeed. For her children, foremost, and then for a whole lot of people who had put faith in her but had no personal stake otherwise. The other kind will soon find another leader to adore. But was it tragic also for the Fate of Democracy in Pakistan? Not necessarily. She inherited the PPP, which her father ran as a personal fiefdom. She ran it the same way. When she went back with the mandate from Washington, she made sure that everyone toed the line, even those who had kept the party going when she was safely sitting in Dubai, London, and New York. And anyone who opposed the total submission to the scheme hatched here, was quickly sidelined and betrayed. The last I heard Aitzaz Ahsan was in jail while she was not. If her death forces the PPP to do some house-cleaning, introduce some democracy within its ranks, work at giving more freedom to its local branches and listening to their needs across the country, her most tragic death can still lead to something good for Pakistan as a whole.

In Bertolt Brecht’s play ‘Galileo’ there is a memorable exchange near the end, after Galileo has ‘recanted’ and saved his life. A friend of his scolds him for not standing up to the Church. My memory say it goes like this:

A friend: Unhappy is the land that lacks a hero.
Galileo: No, unhappy is the land that needs a hero.

Pakistan has had enough of heros in the form ‘irreplaceable’ leaders, ‘martyrs,’ mustached generals, kohl-eyed generals, clean-shaven dogs-loving generals. What Pakistan needs is some humbler being, but none is in view. And if he or she were, the White House would not like him/her at all. After all, they have to fight the GWOT first.

15 Replies to “Round Up IX”

  1. Tariq Ali’s sexist and slanderous “profile” of Bhutto ought not to have been run in the LRB in the first place and is even less appropriate in the aftermath of her assassination. Unless, perhaps, he intends to amend it to blame her for that too.

  2. I was just listening to the news and guess what…19 year old Bilawal has been named as the chairperson of the PPP. It has to remain in the family of course, otherwise how would he be able to make the contribution required of him? It will take more than just shouting ‘democracy’ to get the feudal mentality out of our psyches. By our, I mean South Asian, because the same thing happened after Indira Gandhi’s assasination.

  3. Thanks for your analysis, anger and all, Naim Sahib. I don’t think of myself as completely naive to the suspect nature of mainstream reportage, especially when it’s about the history and politics of another country, but on the other hand it’s all too easy to take a phrase like “self-imposed exile” at face value and repeat it elsewhere.

    We could use some humbler beings holding the reins here as well, but I don’t believe they can get elected.

  4. You say “MQM and the Jamaat has yet to announce their intentions.” Do you mean Jamiat (JUI)? Jamaat announced their intentions by joining PTI in the boycott, before the assasination.

  5. Came to this website following your url from Democracy Now! You were good there, and the article is an excellent one too. I hope more Americans read/hear you.
    These are sad and dangerous times, but I wish stability and peace to Pakistan in the near future.
    -A

  6. Very well said (as ever), sahib. I’m forwarding this to those members of my family who’ve been looking for some context.

  7. “I didn’t bother to find out what the White House said, for I know their response too: the Terrorists did it.”

    From La Casa Bianca:

    “The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice. Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as Prime Minister and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.”

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/12/20071227.html

  8. Prof Naim says: What Pakistan needs is some humbler being, but none is in view.

    Seems strange to me and something of an oxymoron. Pakistan is made of a pride, ‘ghuroor’, which rests on twin coercive pillars viz., the military and Urdu.

    Both are not required if Pakistan only realizes the essence of nationhood – a federalism based on respect of regional identities. Then Pakistan would no longer need Urdu and would need the military, not to imprison her citizens but only to face external enemies. Since the previous incident in Liaquat Bagh or Nishtar Park, if the respectd Professor would prefer, the stick to beat the external enemies has instead been used to beat the citizens.

    But then the good Professor being a teacher of Urdu is himself an ideolog of coercion, albeit of a softer variety, but an ideolog nevertheless.

  9. This is a great brief. “What Pakistan needs is some humbler being, but none is in view. And if he or she were, the White House would not like him/her at all. After all, they have to fight the GWOT first.” Says it all!

  10. This is a tremendous commentary. I loved it. I am an Indian.
    I must say our subcontinent is lurching toward some horrible fate. The situation is not as bad as in Pakistan. But what is happening is definitely disastrous. I feel sometimes the situation is not very dissimilar to Europe of 1930s.

  11. Thank you to Naim Sahib for the insightful analysis. I feel much the same way about my family’s home country of the Philippines. I appreciate your condensed history and the objective look at Bhutto’s role in the larger scheme.

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