Benazir Bhutto is dead, martyred by a hired assassin’s bullets in the cause of the struggle for the rights of the people and in challenging the hegemony of a coterie of vested interests that is feeding itself off the sweat and blood of the people.
State minions have blamed the attack on Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban Amir in Pakistan, a charge that has been duly denied. Clearly, one side is lying and, under the circumstances, the Musharraf regime’s spokesmen do not command any more credibility than Baitullah Mehsud’s spokesmen.
However, it cannot be disputed that it is the duty of the state to protect every citizen. And the state failed to protect a citizen who a vast multitude of people regarded as their leader and saviour and who was under threat — by official accounts as well. To this extent, at the very least, the Musharraf regime is responsible and liable. However, the direct responsibility of state functionaries cannot be ruled out altogether. The pattern of attempts at concealment, diversion, contradictions and concoction in the official responses to the October carnage at Karsaz in Karachi and the subsequent murderous attack at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi constitute disturbing pointers.
One clear case of concoction is perhaps discernable, namely the transcript of the ‘conversation’ between Baitullah Mehsud and his ‘maulvi’ field commander. Technology exists to trace calls to its location within seconds. Israel routinely uses such technology to locate Hamas freedom fighters and surgically target the particular vehicle, even while it is moving. It appears that the Pakistan military possesses this technology, as shown by its ability to pick up the ‘conversation.’ That they were not able or willing to locate either the ‘maulvi’ or Baitullah Mehsud during their alleged minute-long conversation smacks of incompetence or connivance.
Incompetence and/or connivance has now emerged as a hallmark of the Musharraf regime in different areas of policy. Most recent is the case of Mullah Fazlullah in Swat. Media reports of the operation of an illegal radio station by the mullah had been appearing for more than a year. No attempt was made to jam the broadcasts, although the technology to jam radio signals — used even during the Second World War — was available to Pakistani authorities. Possession of this technology is now proved, given that such radio signals have been jammed since the launch of the military operation in Swat. The question arises: is the Swat episode indicative of incompetence or connivance?
Earlier, Pakistani forces battled militants entrenched in the Lal Masjid/Masjid-i-Hafsa complex, suffering several casualties and causing between several score to several hundred deaths among the students. The Lal Masjid episode too simmered for more than a year before coming to a head. The question that arose then, and which no state functionary has cared to answer to date, is: how is it that the Ghazi brothers were able to amass sophisticated weaponry in the heart of Islamabad — a city where it is said that the number of intelligence operatives outnumber the total number of janitors, gardeners and taxi drivers combined? Once again, the question arises: is the bloody Lal Masjid episode indicative of incompetence or connivance?
Earlier still emerged the affair relating to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s clandestine international operations in smuggling contraband nuclear equipment and material. The exposure of his illicit activities was made not by Pakistani authorities but by the United States. The official Pakistan explanation was that he was alone in running the smuggling ring and that Pakistani officials were neither involved nor aware.
Dr Qadeer Khan was a high-value national asset, protected by more than one high-powered security agency. Those who have experienced even one day of police escort know that the facility is double-edged. While the escort ostensibly provides protection, it also deprives the protected individual of a degree of privacy. That the nuclear scientist was able to carry out an international operation involving highly sensitive material — and allegedly use Pakistan Air Force C-130 planes to freight his wares around the world — without drawing the attention of his ‘escorts’ is inconceivable. Once again the question arises: is the Qadeer Khan episode suggestive of incompetence or connivance?
The issue of both, incompetence and connivance, is of critical importance. If incompetence is attributed to the above three cases — and they are by no means exhaustive — the implication is that the country has crossed the threshold of what defines a failed state. The government is unable to enforce its writ; it is unable to control illegal broadcasting stations; it is unable to stop the accumulation of weaponry at any location; it is unable to control individuals engaged in smuggling of dangerous materials; it is unable to protect the life and property of the citizens. By inference it should be considered unable to carry out the assigned task of assisting the United States in its war against terror.
Attribution of connivance is more worrisome. If the events of Swat, Lal Masjid and nuclear smuggling have been allowed to simmer or continue with the connivance of state functionaries, the implication is that there is a coterie of powerful individuals within the corridors of power who consider themselves above the law — national or international — and unaccountable to any principle or institution save their own definition of interests.
The demand for an international investigation into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination needs to be viewed in this context. It would be irresponsible to suggest that extra-legal operations are carried out under formal governmental auspices. However, the repeated and prolonged suspension of constitutional processes and the rule of law have created extra-constitutional and extra-legal power centers. These shadowy centers, embedded within and around the state apparatuses, have spawned a wide network of criminal and terrorist cells. This is an extremely dangerous situation. If the state allows itself to be manipulated outside the bounds of law, the implication is that it has allowed itself to be criminalized. If such a state closes its eyes to some of its functionaries — or those outside but close to power centers — collaborating with international or local smugglers, criminals, militants or terrorists, it can be suspected that this collaboration will at some future date extend to a wider range of criminal and terrorist activities in the country and abroad. The dangers inherent for civilized society in Pakistan and for the world community at large need to be recognised.
Clearly, substantive remedial measures are called for. If the murder of Benazir Bhutto is attributable to incompetence, there emerges an urgent imperative for correcting the failed state syndromes. If it is attributable to connivance, the corridors of power need to be cleaned up. In particular, the cobwebs shrouding sinister Ziaist forces in secret cells have to be cleared and the extra-constitutional and extra-legal power centers dismantled.
Full restoration of the rule of law is in the interest of the political community and civil society in Pakistan if other political or civic leaders are not to be subjected to the threat of elimination. It is in the interest of the international community to help the people of Pakistan restore the rule of law if Pakistan is not to become the focal point for lawlessness, criminality and terrorism worldwide.