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 World Affairs

Islamic extremists will rejoice Bhutto's demise

Bhutto leaving the rally, waving to supporters moments before
 being attacked

There were many powerful forces at work to see the end of Benazir Bhutto. There is the army - whose former commander, the late General Zia Ul Haq who hanged her father - and other elements of the defence establishment like the intelligence agencies. President Pervez Musharraf too is known to have resented her. There are the Taliban supporters and the Islamic fundamentalist organisations as well.

However those who would rejoice the brutal killing of this charismatic woman would be the Islamic fundamentalists not only in Pakistan but the world over.

Some of the fundamentalist mullahs were opposed to her becoming the prime minister from the very beginning. The very idea of a woman becoming the leader of Muslim country was anathema to them. Yet she triumphed, being twice elected prime minister - the first ever Muslim woman to do so in any country.

Another reason was her friendship with the West. The British and American educated Benazir had very close relations with the West. She was one Pakistani leader who openly spoke out for developing strong ties with Western nations, particularly America. Even Nawaz Sharif who too was prime minister was against close relations with Western nations.

Modernity and progress

While strongly committing her country to the Islamic legacy, she openly declared her commitment to bring in modernity to her country, promote education, communications and technological progress. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal she had said: 'I am a symbol of what Jihadists, Taliban and al Qaeda fear most.'

The removal of this dominant political figure has scuttled plans of the United States and Britain who wanted Benazir Bhutto to head a government under General Musharraf and bring political stability to the country which was severely destabilised.

Washington plan

It took much hard work by Washington to make the two mutually resentful personalities to agree to work together. Musharraf was no American creation but came on his own throwing the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif out of power and out of the country. But when 9/11 came, the US declared war on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden. 

Musharraf who had earlier promoted the Taliban shifted over to the Americans under pressure and became America's most trusted ally in the region. The US, it is reported had contributed over $ 9 billion to Pakistan since Musharraf took over. Many hurdles were cleared and finally Bhutto agreed to contest the elections to be held on January 8 which persuaded Nawaz Sharif too to make his party contest the elections.

It did appear that the American President George Bush's plan to have a pro-American government with democratic trappings could materialise, when on Thursday at a political rally in Rawalpindi a suicide bomber shot at Benazir Bhutto killing her and then exploded his bomb killing himself.

The plan now appears to be in shambles and it is doubtful whether the elections scheduled for January 8 would take place. After Bhutto's death Nawaz Sharif announced that he would be pulling out his party from the elections. It is very unlikely that Bhutto's Party, the Pakistan People's Party, though the largest party, would contest the elections without Bhutto. With the two main parties out of the elections it would appear to be a sham; only the party supporting President Musharraf being the remaining noteworthy party.

Bhutto's death had destabilised Pakistan as never before. Her grieving supporters had gone on the rampage setting cars, railway stations, and petrol stations ablaze, and looting banks in many towns. On Friday itself seven banks were ransacked reports said.

The armed services had been given orders to 'shoot on sight.' Commentators were not speculating in which direction this wave of violence would direct itself.

Extremists gain

This wave of violence can only help the Taliban and other extremists who too very strongly oppose Musharraf. Even Bhutto's supporters are accusing Musharraf for the death of Bhutto. Even before Bhutto's killing, Pakistan for the past few months has been wracked with violence with daily killings with roadside bombs and suicide bombers.

Both the Islamic extremists on the borders of Afghanistan in the Province of Waziristan where al Qaeda leaders are believed to be in hiding have been accused by Musharraf of this violence. The Pakistani authorities on Friday accused al Qaeda of carrying out Bhutto's assassination citing intelligence reports.

For the United States and European nations who have committed their troops to fight the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, developments in Pakistan will be of vital importance. It will be in their interests that Musharraf stays on in power. But he is said to be very unpopular among the people and will need the full backing of the army to stay in power.

Since the creation of Pakistan the army has ruled the country for a greater number of years than civilian governments and even such governments had to toe the line of the army. Both Benazir's and Sharif's governments were sacked at the behest of the army.


So it does appear that the efforts of Bhutto and her Western allies to bring back democracy to Pakistan had receded. Last week in an interview commenting on the threat of terrorism to holding elections she had said: 'We (her party) do not want to endanger our leadership unnecessarily. There is the potential of mass murders of our supporters. If we don't campaign terrorists have won and democracy is set back further. If we campaign we risk violence further. That is the dilemma we face.'

Benazir Bhutto knew the risks she was taking for democracy against terrorism and paid the supreme penalty for it. What direction the country would take after the death of 'this finest daughter of Pakistan' (as the editorial in the Dawn described her yesterday)we do not know. But Pakistan would not be the same again without this charismatic woman who rode on the crest of its turbulent politics for three decades.

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