Friday, December 28, 2007 at 9:32 AM

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto: a rendezvous with destiny

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

The October 18 attempt on her life made it ominously clear not only that Benazir Bhutto’s assassins were determined to kill her, but also that her days were numbered.

Therefore, it came as little surprise yesterday when they finally succeeded in what appears to have been a well-orchestrated suicide mission; which, in addition to Bhutto, killed at least 22 others at her campaign rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She was 54.

Of course, Bhutto always spoke in rather heroic terms about the dangers she faced. But I’m not sure whether this was because she was possessed of an enlightened optimism – as she claimed, or of a death wish – as seems to have been the case.

Whatever the case, her life seemed fated for this rendezvous with destiny. Because just as the Ghandis of India are distinguished almost as much for their legacy of tragic deaths as for their political accomplishments, the Bhuttos of Pakistan now share this dubious distinction – given that Bhutto’s father, himself a former prime minister, was executed and two of her brothers also assassinated.

Meanwhile, virtually all of Bhutto’s avenging supporters are blaming President Pervez Musharraf for her death. Not least because Bhutto repeatedly warned that if (or when) she’s assassinated, her blood would be on his hand. After all, she allegedly complained to many “close friends” that Musharraf ignored her requests to enhance her security detail and purge his government of three high-ranking officials – who she was reliably informed were plotting to kill her.

But, with all due respect to Bhutto, her allegations against Musharraf in this respect smack of a calculated campaign to undermine his leadership posthumously. And this seems especially so given the fact that terrorists attempted an almost simultaneous assassination of her political rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Never mind the fact that Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders had issued a practically unpreventable fatwa against her simply because they consider it a religious abomination for a woman to hold political office, let alone lead a Muslim country; or that there were countless other factions in Pakistan lying in wait to assassinate her….

Moreover, it’s impossible to say that Musharraf’s failure to provide the security Bhutto requested (if in fact he did) was the proximate cause of her death.

After all, reports are that even though she was being chauffeured in a heavily armored vehicle and escorted by an impenetrable cordon of bodyguards, it was her spontaneous decision to stand through the sunroof to wave to her supporters that allowed the assassin to fire a fatal bullet into her neck, before detonating his suicide bomb.

But frankly, Musharraf was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. Because just last month, Bhutto condemned him for preventing her from holding a political rally at the very location where she was assassinated yesterday because he deemed it be unsafe. But he clearly knows that her supporters are too hysterical at the moment to appreciate his saying “I told you so….”

Incidentally, the irony is not lost on me that if Musharraf had not caved in to Bhutto’s demand to lift the state of emergency on December 15, she would probably still be alive today. Because here’s what I wrote on November 5 about the prospect of her survival:

[T]here’s no denying that both Musharraf and Bhutto will enjoy far greater personal safety in a Pakistan under martial law than in one where the free movement and association of would-be assassins – who want to kill him as much as they want to kill her – remained unchecked.

That said, it does not reflect well on Musharraf that battalions of Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers have allegedly infiltrated the army he led for so many years. Even worse, the precision, skill, and access it took suggest that this assassination was executed by one or more Pakistani soldiers.

And it hardly seems to matter that these infiltrators have tried to assassinate him on at least two occasions as well. (In fact, having survived numerous attempts on his life, Musharraf’s days may be numbered too.) But no doubt he’ll redouble his efforts now to purge these Muslim fanatics from the military.

For now though the challenge for Musharraf and his new army chief of staff is to ensure that anti-democratic forces do not use appropriate national mourning over Bhutto’s death as a pretext to foment mass civil unrest. And those forces could be unwittingly abetted in their efforts by Sharif who is using her assassination as a pretext to repeat his fatuous calls for Musharraf’s resignation and a boycott of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8.

At any rate, Musharraf should order a sustained military crackdown to restore law and order and ignore reflexive admonitions from western leaders to hold those elections as scheduled. After all, what legitimacy would there be if the vast majority of secular Pakistanis – who support Sharif – do not even participate…?

Never mind that only God knows which faction will end up winning an election under these chaotic circumstances. (Note: I doubt a single western leader thinks it furthered democracy in Palestine when Hamas “terrorists” won free and fair elections there….)

Meanwhile, only grief-stricken nostalgia would lead anyone to assert that prospects for Pakistani democracy died with Bhutto – who, incidentally, was heralded at age 35 as the first female leader of a Muslim country. Because even though she was by far the most popular politician in the country, there was no reason to believe that she would have been any more capable of leading a democratic renaissance in Pakistan this time around than she was able to do during her two previous (ill-fated, corruption-plagued) terms as prime minister.

By contrast, with his godfatherly ties to the military, the country’s only viable institution, Musharraf is uniquely suited to oversee free and transparent parliamentary elections once this period of mourning and unrest subsides. Not to mention the fact that he’s the only person anyone outside Pakistan trusts to keep it’s nuclear weapons in safe hands….

But the best
thing western leaders can do to help him restore law and order is to shut up with their Pollyannaish talk about holding elections. Although, it would also help if they could show due regard for the fact that only Musharraf can extinguish the fuse that was ignited yesterday on the political powder keg that Pakistan has become.

NOTE: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a tragedy for all who value democratic freedoms. In fact, no one in modern times has demonstrated a more principled commitment to the cause of democracy than she. Her tragic death is a great loss for us all.

My heartfelt condolences go out to her family, friends, and the people of Pakistan.

UPDATE (11 a.m.): Even though (according to customary Muslim practice) no autopsy was performed on her, Pakistani government officials announced that Bhutto died from trauma to the head, not from a gunshot or shrapnel as previously reported. They claim that she suffered this trauma when she banged her head on the sunroof trying to dodge the gunshots being fired at her.

But who knows? Although, frankly, determining what killed her is not nearly as important as determining who did . . . .

Related Articles:
Hamas terrorist win legitimate power
Day of reckoning for Pervez Musharraf
Crocodile tears in the West as Musharraf imposes martial law…

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