Musharraf’s Failure to Protect Benazir Bhutto Endangers Pakistani Federation


Benazir Bhutto died among her people. She would probably not have it any other way. Just a couple of months ago in an article titled ‘A fair investigation’ I had written in respect of the first attempt on her life in Karachi:

“Clearly, a fair investigation may lead to sacrosanct spaces and figures. The burning question is: will Musharraf permit such an investigation? If he does not, he runs the risk of arousing suspicions regarding his own commitment amongst his allies in enlightened moderation. If he does, his own power base may be under threat.”

Benazir Bhutto, writing from her Blackberry, responded to the article and in her inimitable manner of making even an armchair contributor feel important asked for an assessment on the prospects of a fair investigation and the mechanics of the proposal contained in the latter part of the article regarding a purge of the intelligence agencies.

My suggestion for a conditional engagement with the government to take the investigation further as a first step was turned down with the correct judgment: “no association [with the government] until international assistance is available”.

She rightly wanted to test Musharraf’s commitment to the process of change. She knew that if he agreed to international assistance he would move towards a break from the unaccountable manner in which the intelligence agencies in the country have been used. She was perhaps looking for hope where there was none.

Much as she expected, Musharraf chose to protect his own murky power base. In the process he effectively signed her death warrant. She had counted on the fact that Musharraf would realize where his long-term interests lay. She did not realize the web of deceit and incompetence in which the man and his generals are trapped.

Musharraf by being cavalier with her security has undermined Pakistan’s federation. He has also tremendously damaged the United States’ credibility in the war on terror.

The United States has for some time been propagating the new mantra that they will move from their age-old methodology of supporting ruthless dictators to one of supporting democracy. As a godsend they had in Benazir Bhutto a genuinely popular moderate partner for Pakistan to practice this doctrine.

She saw the extremist threat to her country for what it was — a recipe for civil war — and was willing to confront it. Consequently, at great risk to herself, she agreed to work with all forces against extremism in society including the United States.

Her so-called allies were supposed to provide the physical safety and she the rallying call. Instead they entrusted her security to another ally called Musharraf. He was either incompetent, complicit or regarded her as a threat. She lost her life and the United States is now a laughing stock of a superpower around the world.

Should the Americans not have known their ally Musharraf? Musharraf’s history, which everyone but his allies can see, is one of incompetence (Kargil), contempt for the Constitution and his oath (the coup), greed for power (the emergency) and plain arrogance (inability to grasp the lifeline provided by Benazir Bhutto).

Pakistan is as a result blessed with a president who cannot now walk, unescorted, across any busy street of his own country for fear of being lynched. Not by the Islamists (as he might want his superpower friends to believe) but the ordinary people of Pakistan.

The United States and Britain may find it difficult to digest but their latest tin pot in Pakistan is now associated with Benazir Bhutto’s murder and as a result has now almost pegged their last tin pot dictator, Ziaul Haq, as the most reviled man in Pakistan’s history. If they are not careful they may soon find themselves tainted and unacceptable to the same forces they are trying to rally.

The destruction of jails, banks, police stations and schools across the country in response to Benazir Bhutto’s murder was a revolt of the common man against the mullah, the military and the militancy they have together created in Pakistan. If a civilian had been in charge of such a mess, the military would have probably hanged him for being a threat to the federation. Instead, Musharraf does not accept any responsibility. He is shameless enough to not even offer to resign. Even Yahya Khan had more decency.

It was ironic indeed when the United States asked Musharraf for an investigation which would satisfy the people of Pakistan. I am sure if the United States had consulted anyone aware of what the people of Pakistan are thinking at the moment the word ‘unlikely’ would have figured in any conversation regarding confidence in a fair investigation or in Musharraf.

And now for the investigation itself. For most people today, rightly or wrongly, Baitullah Mehsud and the intelligence agencies are two faces of the same coin but let us not as a result of this relationship fall into the trap of Al Qaeda’s reported denial of involvement.

Al Qaeda are known liars and are simply scared of the wrath of the people of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden is known to have financed earlier plots to kill Benazir Bhutto and has had connections with circles in Pakistan’s intelligence set up in this regard.

Al Qaeda’s religious politics is all about exercising power through killing other Muslims. They have no tradition of chivalry where women or children are concerned. Al Qaeda will in one form or the other be involved but it is not clear who they are working with.

The people of Pakistan can best avenge Benazir Bhutto’s murder by forcing the political parties in Pakistan to unite to deal with Al Qaeda and force the military out of politics.

Practically, the only way we the people of Pakistan can cast the first stone is to vote in the next election for Nawaz Sharif, the Awami National Party or the Pakistan People’s Party. Let us clearly tell the military and its collaborators (the PML-Q and the maulvis) that they are not welcome to politics in this country any more. A reduction of religion in politics will automatically emerge. Benazir Bhutto’s death will not be in vain if it brings down the system imposed on this country. If it does not do so because our people and politicians remain blind to reality then at least she will have done what a leader is supposed to do: expose things for as they stand.

The writer is a corporate lawyer and political analyst. This article appeared in The Dawn.