Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto fact file

The appalling assassination of Benazir Bhutto comes just two weeks before elections in Pakistan. I certainly don't know enough to voice wise words on what the implications are going to be of these events, nor to deliver a properly informed obituary - so the logical thing to do when starting from such an ignorant position is to go and find out the facts - and then share with Daily Maybe-ites my reading list. I'd welcome suggested links in the comments box to help flesh out this "fact file".

There are obituaries at the BBC and in the Guardian (also).

From these we learn that she comes from a long standing political dynasty and her brothers (Shahnawaz and Murtaza) were both murdered and her father was executed after a military coup in the seventies. In the seventies she spent five years in prison for her political activities, the majority of which was spent in solitary confinement. Her husband (by arranged marriage) spent eight years in prison although has never been convicted of any crime.

She was twice Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996. Both terms ended with her dismissal by the President on charges of "corruption" which were later dropped. Bhutto was in self imposed exile from 1999 until this year due to concerns for her safety and liberty.

There is a Wikipedia article which adds interesting personal information like the fact she studied at Harvard and Oxford and also has a decent outline of the detail of the corruption charges laid against her and her husband. It also lists a number of books by and about Bhutto and has a reasonably thorough article on the PPP. As always we must use caution when it comes to Wikipedia when it comes to accuracy, as we must with all sources.

You can also see her life in pictures here and here you can see pictures from the rally not long before her killing.

Unsurprisingly many analysts are saying that Benazir Bhutto's assassination spells dire trouble for the people of Pakistan well beyond the spate of rioting and serious unrest that it has sparked (pics). The Guardian describes troop movements in response. In particular Bhutto has been seen by the West as a potentially stabilising force in Pakistan who is willing to take a hard line on "Islamic extremism", the Huffington Post goes so far as to suggest, quite plausibly, that Pakistan is the most pressing situation in the world today.

Bhutto's death may indeed herald a new era of military rule (BBC) and is a massive set back for the West's agenda of bringing in a friendly liberal democracy in Pakistan. It's also likely that her death may lead to the coming elections being postponed, elections the PPP would almost certainly win despite the consistent harassment of their activists by the state (more of this in an excellent piece in the Guardian by Julian Borger).

The difficulties are increased because her death leaves a void at the head of the Pakistan People's Party (Independent), the largest party in Pakistan. The PPP is a social democratic variant affiliated to the same international grouping as the Labour Party whose creed is "Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; all power to the people." However, her death is far more significant than such an assassination would be in most political parties in this country as the PPP is very much seen as Bhutto's party - in the same way that Berlusconi and Putin formed parties to promote their personal agenda, parties that would fall to pieces without these strong personalities at the helm.

Musharraf is being held to be complicit in the assassination by many. Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and leader of a rival opposition party said "Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death," he said. "Don't feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers" (my emphasis) and at the hospital where she died some supporters began chanting, "Killer, Killer, Musharraf." Whether or not Musharrif is directly responsible for the attack (which seems unlikely) there is no getting round the fact that Bhutto's supporters will hold him at the very least indirectly responsible for her death.

The doctrinal Marxist Alan Woods writes that "These elections would have reflected a big shift to the left in Pakistan. This prospect was causing alarm in the ruling clique. That is what was behind today's atrocity." A direct connection that may in fact be putting the case far too strongly. But Woods goes further. Although most commentators blame Islamic forces for the actual killing he states that "The dark forces of counterrevolution in countries like Pakistan habitually dress up in the garb of Islamic fundamentalism... The so-called Islamic fundamentalists and jihadis are only the puppets and hired assassins of reactionary forces that ere entrenched in the Pakistani ruling class and the state apparatus, lavishly funded by the Pakistan Intelligence Services (ISI), drug barons with connections with the Taliban, and the Saudi regime, always anxious to support and finance any counterrevolutionary activity in the world."

I'm certainly not in a position to gain say him, although orchestrating suicide bombings seems a little far fetched for state intelligence forces and I've never been one to warm to this kind of theory where the tendrils of the ruling class control every foul deed on the planet. It also would be a direct contradiction to many well informed analysts who saw Bhutto as more of a saviour to Musharrif's regime than threat to it.

However, there may well be a kernel of truth if we dig through the orthodoxy that Musharrif had no love for his more popular rival who threatened his dominant role in Pakistan. It is pretty much undisputed that Musharrif was going out of his way to make life difficult for his political rival, including, according to Bhutto's supporters, jeopardising security.

However whatever faults Woods may or may not have he does end on a incisive point that "There is nothing easier than to take the life of a man or a woman. We humans are frail creatures and easily killed. But you cannot murder an idea whose time has come!"

As you'd expect the bloggers have plenty to say on this. So far the best I've found have been Dave and Phil although I'm sure they'll be more to come.

Dave suggests that in the short term Musharrif's regime can survive but that the long term viability of the state itself is in question. He goes into some detail on the potential fissures that exist within Pakistan society.

Phil wants us to be clear that the support Bhutto has received from the US and UK governments has "nothing to do with her democratic or secular credentials" but rather her ability to provide a more democratic veneer to the current regime. This being the case her assassination may appear more fundamental than some suggest. This view, if correct, would be backed up by the piece by Dilip Hiro in CiF.

Lenin's Tomb also has an interesting piece which remarks that "at the moment, the one stable state in the Middle East is Iran," and uses these events to call for a d├ętente with Iran.

Additional links and stories

  • Sky News has some interesting reactions, including from Salma Yaqoob.
  • Socialist Worker has an online article which has the rather dubious line "Her death is certain to further destabilise a country that is already being torn apart by the forces unleashed by George Bush's "war on terror"." However, other than that it's interesting and puts the assassination in the context of Pakistan's foundation.
  • The Washington Post focuses on what really matters to it, the West, "elections could have a calming effect on Washington, on London, and on other international capitals."
  • The Hindustan Times describes the events as Pakistan's darkest hour. "Far from turning Pakistan away from the politics of Islamist extremism, General Musharraf's policies of "enlightened moderation", a case of one step forward two steps back, have firmly entrenched the jihadis in the country's politics."
  • The same publicaton mulls over the implications for US foreign policy. "US policy is going to go down the drain, just as their policy of betting on Bhutto giving Musharraf some legitimacy has fallen apart."
  • The New York Times describes effects of Bhutto's tactics since returning to Pakistan in this way; "The political dance she has deftly performed since her return — one moment standing up to President Musharraf, the next seeming to accommodate him — stirred hope and distrust among Pakistanis."
  • There is an interesting time line of Pakistan's 2007 here.
  • There is a list of some of the reactions by Pakistani bloggers here.
  • Breaking news here. Nawaz Sharif has announced his party will be boycotting the elections and has called on Musharrif to stand down immediately. "The holding of fair and free elections is not possible in the presence of Pervez Musharraf. After the killing of Benazir Bhutto, I announce that the Pakistan Muslim League-N will boycott the elections,"
More links
  • Jon Rogers attempts to give the news some international context.
  • Shiraz Socialist highlights a piece by Tariq Ali.
  • Trevor talks about the socialist origins of the PPP
  • I've just read a statement from George Galloway which, as one would expect, wastes no time in jumping to conclusions "The professionalism of the assassination, the way in which the killer managed to get within pistol range of the opposition leader, the decoy 'suicide bomb' story... all point to the intelligence apparatus of the dictatorship being involved in the crime."
  • Jihad Watch focuses on Islam's role in politics in Pakistan.
  • The Huffington Post has collated their posts on the assassination in one page, although it has to be said some of the posts are more about US politics than the assassination itself.
  • Oliver Kamm berates the West for "indulgence of military rule in Pakistan under President Musharraf"
  • Michael Fathers writes a frank but friendly obituary in the Independent.
  • Whilst the same papers lead article on the story talks of hopes long past that "Mr Musharraf and Ms Bhutto might be able to bury their differences for the sake of a stable Pakistan and a rapid transition to democracy."
  • Paul Cruikshank outlines Bhutto's long hostile relationship with al-Qaida.
  • Al Jazeera has an interesting and detailed piece on its website. "For much of Pakistan's democratic history, politics has been dominated by the Bhutto factor: Benazir successfully carried on the legacy of her father where only two kinds of forces were arraigned in a political contest - those who loved Bhutto or the ones who loathed him."
  • They also have an obituary that looks well worth a read.
Friday's updates
  • The Hindu discusses Pakistan's uncertain future.
  • Arif Rafiq calls for action. "President Pervez Musharraf must take immediate steps - most importantly, the formation of a national unity government - to prevent Pakistan from tearing apart at the seams." I suspect others may think this is an unlikely and possibly unwelcome development.
  • Al Jazeera on the violent protests and deaths in the wake of the assassination.
  • The Independent describes Bhutto's funeral where "Many mourners chanted slogans against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the United States, which has long backed the former army general in the hope he can maintain stability in the nuclear-armed country racked by Islamist violence."
  • In a rather creepy piece the BBC writes that the assassination has effected global markets.
  • Simon Tisdall says that "The US, whose attempts to manipulate Pakistan's politics have failed so miserably, now finds itself in a quandary. Washington has spent the year gently pulling the rug from under the president. Now it is scrambling to advise and influence him."
  • Joe Lauria asks "who benefits from Bhutto's killing?" His answer is a little disturbing frankly. "The answer in this case is Musharraf and the extremists. Bhutto was the enemy of both. Could they have worked together to eliminate her?" The answer is almost certainly no - the "extremists" have also tried to murder Musharraf and he has certainly had plenty of them killed - so they are unlikely bed fellows.
  • Blogger Disillusioned Kid writes that "This is more complicated than the simplistic conflict between secularists and fundamentalists envisaged by many liberals, encompassing a wide range of interpretations, traditions and movements, but will shape in very important ways the world we live in over the coming years and decades."
  • Hurroon Siddique muses on whether Bhutto's children may continue the political dynasty as she continued her father's work.
  • Al Jazeera also has an interesting piece on what next for Pakistan?
  • Rupa Huq on the role of women in Asian politics.
  • Saturday's Independent has a series of articles. Robert Fisk on who the people blame, one on who government blames, on opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, and one on the violence.
  • The excellent Juan Cole estimates the toll of the violence.
Saturday's selected updates
Sunday's selected updates

Today will be the last day I update this post. New develpments will now go into new posts. By the way, thanks to everyone who linked to this "fact file", much appreciated.


Justin Pickard said...

Excellent analysis. Having followed up some of those links, I know feel as though I know what's going on.

Renegade Eye said...

Very well written post.

Phil is correct that Bhutto wasn't brought to bring democracy. She was the best savior of capitalism. On the other hand PPP allows factions. The PPP allows marxist candidates to promote their program.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks J and R: I'll try to keep the post updated for a week or so and then maybe do something a little more concise - we'll see.