Murder Most Foul: Pakistan’s Establishment and the Benazir Bhutto Assassination

Gen. MusharrafWith charges against former dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, formally filed in an Islamabad court, the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is once again the center of attention. While few doubt that Musharraf failed to provide sufficient security to the popular leader, her assassination was not just Musharraf’s doing. In a forthcoming book United Nations investigator Heraldo Munoz has pointed out that there is much more that needs both investigation and prosecution.

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Benazir Bhutto Remembered

by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz IspahaniToday is the fifth death anniversary of Pakistan’s iconic leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. History remembers her as the first elected woman prime minister of a Muslim majority country. For millions of Pakistanis she was the embodiment of their hopes for a democratic, pluralist country and the desire to be free of the scourge of extremism and terrorism. She led and kept the PPP alive against many odds during and after the dark years of the obscurantist dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq.

Benazir Bhutto touched the lives of many Pakistanis by confronting military dictatorship in opposition and through her programmes to address the issues of the poorest and most marginalised during her two short stints in office. She was seen as a threat by those who saw her vision for Pakistan as a challenge to their militarised intrigues. For that reason alone she was hounded during her life and killed by the bigots who have hijacked our beloved country.

Bibi Shaheed firmly believed that women and those who followed other religions were equal Pakistanis in every way. She lived by her convictions and was killed for them. Her vision for Pakistan is summarised in her final book, fittingly titled Reconciliation. Bibi also left the PPP a Manifesto that she had personally worked on and read and reread countless times.

It is hard to forget the day of her assassination, the scenes at the hospital, that endless night carrying Bibi’s coffin in the C-130 with her young children and closest friends and aides on board. The long, terrible drive through the dark, sleeping villages of Sindh, driving behind the ambulance which carried our beloved Bibi home are seared in my memory. Buried next to her father at Garhi Khuda Baksh and close to her two brothers Mir Murtaza and Shahnawaz, Benazir Bhutto was like them, martyred by those who loved power more than Pakistan.

Many of us believed that Bibi Shaheed’s sacrifice of her life would bring change to Pakistan. The country was paralysed and even those who had been her fiercest political opponents during her lifetime grieved for her and her family. There was grief around the world. World leaders who had known Ms Bhutto personally either in her capacity as prime minister or as the leader of the opposition or from her exile years mourned. As did many citizens of countries near and far. In the years since her assassination, many of us have run into countless working people in many countries who express their grief over Bibi’s death the moment they find out that we are from Pakistan.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of her death, we have to ask ourselves whether we understood her ultimate sacrifice. Have the over-reaching powers of the establishment that consistently plotted against her democratic values been curbed? Has democracy and its roots been strengthened? Have the lives of Pakistan’s citizens improved materially and socially or at least been put on the path to improvement? Are Muslims of different denominations and our non-Muslim minorities safer today?

Several excellent laws have been passed by parliament. The visible improvement of Pakistan-India ties are to be celebrated. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) — initially conceived by Mohtarma Bhutto herself along with economist Kaisar Bengali — is an extremely successful initiative with many new components. But much still has to be done and many of her ideas are still unfulfilled.

Pakistan remains in the grip of militarism and militancy. The superior courts have failed to expand access to justice, involving themselves in political issues instead. The democratic process continues to be undermined by invisible intrigues and many important issues end up being neglected. The establishment continues to think of ways around the Constitution instead of allowing the country to be run according to its principles. Instead of mourning what we have lost, we must use this occasion for self-reflection. We must remember her indefatigable energy, her love for her homeland, her endless patience and her step-by-step, day-by-day work together to reclaim Pakistan.

We owe Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto no less.

The writer was MNA from 2008-2012 and is media adviser to President Asif Ali Zardari. Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2012.

Pakistan’s Real Heroines

Imran Khan’s latest publicity stunt is, ironically, to increase the number of Americans operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Imran won’t risk being called a traitor, though, because the Americans he’s importing are anti-drone activists. Actually, I have no problem with Imran inviting Americans to Pakistan. I wish more Americans were able to come and see the Pakistan I know – one that I think has very little in common with what they see on CNN. But I’ll leave aside for the moment the blatant hypocrisy of Imran Khan chanting ‘Go America Go’ on one day and ‘Come Americans Come’ when it suits his politics. What has really upset me is the way these American activist are being treated by the media, and what it says about how much we value (or don’t) our own brave women.

Picking up a copy of Dawn on Wednesday, my attention was grabbed by the headline, ‘Pakistan’s Rachel Corrie’. Rachel Corrie, in case you don’t remember, was an American woman who was killed in Gaza trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes. It is a tragic story of someone who is willing to sacrifice her own life to defend the rights of the oppressed. So who was this woman that Dawn declared as ‘Pakistan’s Rachel Corrie’?

Suzie Gilbert, a tall American woman with endless strands of curly long hair, immediately recognises the reference — the importance and its history. She informs that a lot of American delegates that have come to Pakistan have also been involved in peace activities in Gaza and Iraq.

Suzie Gilbert adds to the diversity of the delegation visiting Pakistan. She lives in Los Angeles and works in Hollywood. She has worked in various anti-war movies and knows the famous movie director Oliver Stone quite well.

So ‘Pakistan’s Rachel Corrie’ is a wealthy American woman? I disagree. Actually, Pakistan has not one, but many ‘Rachel Corries’, and none of them are from Hollywood. Here are just a few:

Farida Afridi

A woman, who anxiously awaited to be posted in a no-go area to serve those women and children of her community who have no access to basic rights and do not know how to raise their voices for these rights, was killed on the road in broad daylight.

The assassination of Farida Afridi, who was a member of an organisation working for women’s welfare in Jamrud, Khyber Agency, is one brutal example of this mindset which does not accept women out of the boundaries of their homes.

Sherry Rehman

All Sherry Rehman wants is to go out – for a coffee, a stroll, lunch, anything. But that’s not possible. Death threats flood her email inbox and mobile phone; armed police are squatted at the gate of her Karachi mansion; government ministers advise her to flee.

“I get two types of advice about leaving,” says the steely politician. “One from concerned friends, the other from those who want me out so I’ll stop making trouble. But I’m going nowhere.” She pauses, then adds quietly: “At least for now.”

It’s been almost three weeks since Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down outside an Islamabad cafe. As the country plunged into crisis, Rehman became a prisoner in her own home. Having championed the same issue that caused Taseer’s death – reform of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws – she is, by popular consensus, next on the extremists’ list.

Benazir Bhutto

I welcome Suzie Gilbert and her colleagues to Pakistan, and I hope that they are permitted to see beyond the narrow view they are certain to get from Imran Khan and his Taliban security. But, please, don’t call them ‘Rachel Corrie’. We have our own heroines who have really risked everything to stand up for the oppressed, and they can never be replaced.

Dual Nationality Suspensions: A Continuation of Zia’s Political Targeting?

ZAB courtAfter Gen Zia carried out his coup, he made sure that democratic politicians could not threaten his grip on power. He did this by having Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto put to death, throwing Benazir Bhutto in prison, and carrying out an orchestrated campaign to harrass, torture, and kill democratic activists and leaders across the country. Many fled, not out of fear, but out of the dedication to regroup and return to liberate Pakistan from the clutches of a brutal dictator. Zia is long gone, but unfortunately, his programme of hounding democratic politicians continues – only this time, through other means.

A couple of months ago, I noted that people take dual citizenship for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with a diminished love or loyalty to Pakistan. One of those reasons was fear of political targeting:

It is also important to view the issue of dual nationality in a historical perspective. For most of the past 35 years, Pakistan suffered under one military dictatorship or another. Gen. Zia especially treated his political opponents brutally and without mercy. Martial Law Regulation No 53 left an indelible stain on the nation and many families were forced to look for security abroad.

Even during brief periods of democratic rule, politics was a high stakes game that ruined lives. We should remember that before the NRO was spun into a ‘get Zardari’ campaign, it was considered as a way to deal with the fact that the judiciary had become a weapon used against opponents. Just as the Supreme Court seems interested only in 4 cases of dual nationals, it seems to have forgotten that the NRO affected not only Zardari’s case but 8,000 others.

And the dual nationality issue affects every party and political ideology also. Just because the PPP is the only party being targeted by the Supreme Court, we should remember that even Imran Khan has said that dual nationals “should be treated equally”. Actually, PTI is taking much of its funding from foreign countries and some top PTI officers such as Fauzia Kasuri are dual nationals. Does this mean that she is not loyal to Pakistan? Imran Khan himself was married in England where he lived for part of every year for almost a decade. Maybe he too is a dual national. Does anyone honestly think that he is more loyal to the UK than Pakistan? Ridiculous.

Whatever your political beliefs, it is difficult to argue that any party has been the target of dictators wrath more than PPP. Benazir Bhutto was forced into exile by one military dictator, and her life was sacrificed under the watchful eye of another. But Benazir Bhutto’s political vision – moderate, tolerant, and pro-democracy – did not die. If anything, her martyrdom made it grow stronger, and PPP won the 2008 elections.

Gen Zia, on the other hand, hated democracy and is best known for introducing Islamisation to Pakistan including the draconian Hudood laws. But that is not his only legal legacy. It was also under Gen Zia that Articles 62 and 63 were added to the Constitution – including the language that the Court contends disqualifies dual nationals from joining parliament. It is in this context that we must view the current actions of the Supreme Court regarding dual nationality.

Is it mere coincidence that the first parliamentarian to be suspended is a PPP MNA? Or that she just happens to be married to the former Ambassador Husain Haqqani, another PPP loyalist who was forced to resign without any formal charges or trial? Is it further coincidence that the second parliamentarian to be suspended is the Interior Minister, another PPP loyalist?

In a hearing, the petitioner told the Supreme Court that Former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary, Kanwar Dilshad, has said that there were 35 parliamentarians with dual nationalities. The Court, however, has taken drastic measures against only two parliamentarians – Farahnaz Ispahani and Rehman Malik. Two others are still under scrutiny by the Court – MNA Iftikhar Nazeer (PPP) and MNA Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal (PPP). It appears that the Supreme Court is only concerned with disqualifying PPP members, while ignoring allegations against the 31 others.

Democratic activists and leaders, especially those affiliated with the PPP, were systematically targeted and persecuted by Gen Zia’s forces. They were driven into exile where they regrouped until they could return to their homeland, bringing back the democracy promised by Qaid-e-Azam.

And return they did, smashing the idols of fascist dictatorship and giving back to the people their right to rule themselves. Now, we are being told that we cannot trust the loyalty of these same people because they chose to temporarily leave rather than submit to an illegitimate dictator. The General must be laughing in his grave.