Date: 30 Dec 2007


Another Death in Rawalpindi 

By Aziz Huq 
The Nation 
Thursday, December 27, 2007

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It goes without saying that the killing of any
human being is a tragedy. But the assassination
[1] of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir
Bhutto in Liaqut Bagh in Rawalpindi, along with
more than a dozen others, echoes back into
Pakistan's troubled history, portends more
violence and flags a proud country's fall further
into chaos. It also signals the manifest
bankruptcy of the Bush Administration's
anti-terrorism policy in the region. 

It was at Liaquat Bagh that Pakistan's second
prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was killed as he
addressed a public meeting in October 1951; four
years later, martial law would be declared, even
before a first constitution could be promulgated. 

And it was close to the site of today's bombing at
Liaqat Bagh, in the Rawalpindi Central Jail, that
Benazir Bhutto's father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was
hanged at 2 AM April 4, 1979. Executions were
usually held at dawn, but the military government
wanted to avoid public protests. Neither
Zulfiqar's wife nor his daughter was notified in
time to be present at his death, or at his burial.

Like his daughter, Zulfiqar had also been an
elected prime minister of Pakistan. Indeed, he had
set in motion Pakistan's relatively fair elections
in March 1977 -- only to see his victory snatched
away by a military coup ("Operation Fairplay") by
his former friend and ally Army-General Muhammad
Ziaul Haq. With no little irony, the United
States-supported Zia struck on the night of July
4, 1977. 

Like today's American-sustained generalissimo
Pervez Musharraf, Zia relied on the mullahs and on
machine guns from America to make up the deficit
of democracy. Thanks to the intermediating role
that Pakistan's secret services, the ISI, played
in the Afghan mujahideen's war against the Soviet
occupation, Zia could rely on American support
even as he postponed elections (first slated for
1979), hounded the judiciary into subservience and
then elevated puritanical religious factions into
national political actors. For it was Zia who
first created a federal Shariat Court and a
national council, or Majlis-e-Shoora, to preside
over his conceit of an "Islamic democracy." 

At his death in August 1988, [2] Zia left behind
what political scientist Ayesha Jalal accurately
describes as "a subservient, fragmented, highly
monetized, corrupt and violent political system"
-- a system that merited American fealty to its
dying day. 

Sound familiar? It should. In his years as
President and Army Chief, Musharaff gradually
chipped away at the political space for PPP and
its main electoral competitor, Nawaz Sharif's
PML-Q, as well as imposing increasing pressure on
a fiercely independent press. Instead, he relied
on the six-party Islamist party alliance, the
Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, which today governs two
of Pakistan's four federal units, Northwest
Frontier Province and Balochistan. In the past
year, he has gutted again the judiciary of
independent-minded judges such as Justice Iftikhar
Muhammad Chaudhry. And during Musharraf's tenure,
the military leadership has extended its control,
kudzu-like, into more and more sectors of the
economy, from construction to breakfast cereals.
Today, military analyst Ayesha Siddeque [3]
estimates, the five conglomerates, or "welfare
foundations," under military control own about $20
billion of assets and twelve billion hectares of
land. This stake in the nation's economic life
means the military necessarily has a large and
persisting interest in control of the political
process. Finally, as for Musharraf's central role
to American anti-terrorism goals, well... we'll
get to that in a moment. 

I hold no brief for Bhutto or the Pakistan's
People Party. By all accounts, the party she led
was elitist, venally corrupt, and massively
incompetent during its two spells in office during
the 1990s. Popular lamentations aside, moreover,
no one credibly believes that she could be a
redemptive figure in the mold of a Mandela. 

Rather, she was a tether back in history to that
slim moment of democracy in Pakistan's fraught
past of military domination. Since 1955, Pakistan
has been ruled by generals with only brief
intervals. In the wake of lawyers' protests,
judicial resistance and international pressure, it
seemed the thread of democracy might be
recaptured. However imperfect Benazir and PPP
might have been, at least they relied on the
ballot box, and not on the Kalashnikov and the
Qur'an. However corrupt the PPP might have been,
at least they could be booted out in one election
or other. 

The death of the major opposition leader will make
it easier for Musharraf to assemble a
parliamentary coalition to do his bidding in the
coming January elections. It renders more distant
[4] the possibility of elections that are not
manipulated and leaders who respond to the people
rather than to bosses in uniform. And it makes it
less likely that the Pakistani military will shift
from its symbiotic entanglement with religious
hardliners at the polls and in the streets. 

My aspiration and hope for democracy in Pakistan
is no dewy-eyed Romanticism, a soft-hearted
preference for rights or a lawyer's predilection
for the grand abstraction "rule of law." Rather,
in Pakistan's democracy lies America's best hope
for redeeming the disaster that Pakistan has
become for national security policy. 

It should escape no one's attention that Musharaff
has relied so far on the openly pro-Taliban
religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), [5]
particularly in the troubled province of
Balochistan. News reports have consistently and
plausibly identified Balochistan as the hiding
place for high-level Al Qaeda leaders, including
bin Laden, [6] who can rely on sympathetic tribal
and religious leaders. Musharraf depends for his
political survival on political factions that are
at minimum sympathetic to America's core enemy,
and at worst are abetting the terrorist
leadership's continued evasion of detection and
arrest. In the muck of Pakistan's domestic
politics, the friend of our friend may well be our
enemy. Ironically, the Bush Administration has
been backing a military leader who, even as he
claimed to rein in religious militants, depends on
them for his electoral success. 

Without democracy, though, there is not even a
remote possibility of severing this fatal bond,
and putting an end to sanctuary for Al Qaeda's
leadership. Without democracy, there is scant
chance that the tribal and religious leaders who
have provided the Taliban with a strategic
sanctuary can be won over. Without democracy,
there is little chance for reform of madrassas [7]
that not only spew out "martyrs" for Kashmir and
Afghanistan but also give aid and comfort to the
very small number in the West looking for
justifications of violence. 

Compounding the problem has been American
incompetence. As in Iraq, billions of dollars in
aid have been frittered away [8] through
incompetence and carelessness, leaving the
Pakistani army just as unwilling and unable to
take on the Taliban's sanctuaries. Worse, there is
no remedial plan [9] on the horizon. Under
American tutelage, the military has gotten fatter
and more ham-fisted. 

The Bush Administration's policy with respect to
Pakistan, in short, is a train wreck. As usual,
the White House has assumed that military force --
here deployed by a vassal state -- could clamp
down on terrorism. As usual, it has utterly failed
to understand complex relations, here the links
between ISI and Al Qaeda going back to the Afghan
war, and the way in which corruption and a drift
to purely "faith-based" politics push more and
more people toward the violently eschatological
ideology of our enemies. 

The Administration's Pakistan policy is worse than
a shambles; its failures radiate out. It is
fostering the erosion of what limited success
there was in Afghanistan. It is feeding terrorist
propaganda that claims America sustains tyrants.
And it is impeding the long-term goal of a
Pakistan that cannot serve as a terrorist safe
haven or a training ground for recruits from the

The death of Benazir Bhutto shows that the Bush
Administration has left itself no way out. Beyond
the tragedy of Pakistan's history cruelly
replaying itself, today should go down as the day
it became clear how badly the Bush Administration
has failed in the region. For on September 12,
2001, there was one failed state that could be a
terrorist haven. Today, it is violently and
tragically clear that the Administration's
policies have wrought two more failed states that
could, and likely will, sustain terrorist
activities in the future. 










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Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi 
Om Shanti