It goes without saying that the killing of any human being is a tragedy. But the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Liaqut Bagh in Rawalpindi, along with more than a dozen others, echoes back into Pakistan’s troubled history, portends more violence and flags a proud country’s fall further into chaos. It also signals the manifest bankruptcy of the Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism policy in the region.
It was at Liaquat Bagh that Pakistan’s second prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was killed as he addressed a public meeting in October 1951; four years later, martial law would be declared, even before a first constitution could be promulgated.
And it was close to the site of today’s bombing at Liaqat Bagh, in the Rawalpindi Central Jail, that Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged at 2 AM April 4, 1979. Executions were usually held at dawn, but the military government wanted to avoid public protests. Neither Zulfiqar’s wife nor his daughter was notified in time to be present at his death, or at his burial.
Like his daughter, Zulfiqar had also been an elected prime minister of Pakistan. Indeed, he had set in motion Pakistan’s relatively fair elections in March 1977–only to see his victory snatched away by a military coup (“Operation Fairplay”) by his former friend and ally Army-General Muhammad Ziaul Haq. With no little irony, the United States-supported Zia struck on the night of July 4, 1977.
Like today’s American-sustained generalissimo Pervez Musharraf, Zia relied on the mullahs and on machine guns from America to make up the deficit of democracy. Thanks to the intermediating role that Pakistan’s secret services, the ISI, played in the Afghan mujahideen’s war against the Soviet occupation, Zia could rely on American support even as he postponed elections (first slated for 1979), hounded the judiciary into subservience and then elevated puritanical religious factions into national political actors. For it was Zia who first created a federal Shariat Court and a national council, or Majlis-e-Shoora, to preside over his conceit of an “Islamic democracy.”
At his death in August 1988, Zia left behind what political scientist Ayesha Jalal accurately describes as “a subservient, fragmented, highly monetized, corrupt and violent political system”–a system that merited American fealty to its dying day.
Sound familiar? It should. In his years as President and Army Chief, Musharaff gradually chipped away at the political space for PPP and its main electoral competitor, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, as well as imposing increasing pressure on a fiercely independent press. Instead, he relied on the six-party Islamist party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, which today governs two of Pakistan’s four federal units, Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan. In the past year, he has gutted again the judiciary of independent-minded judges such as Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. And during Musharraf’s tenure, the military leadership has extended its control, kudzu-like, into more and more sectors of the economy, from construction to breakfast cereals. Today, military analyst Ayesha Siddeque estimates, the five conglomerates, or “welfare foundations,” under military control own about $20 billion of assets and twelve billion hectares of land. This stake in the nation’s economic life means the military necessarily has a large and persisting interest in control of the political process. Finally, as for Musharraf’s central role to American anti-terrorism goals, well… we’ll get to that in a moment.