Pakistan After Benazir
The Chairperson for Life of the Pakistan Peoples Party is not the Chairperson today. Life cut off its tenuous relationship with her. Some reports indicate it was shrapnel wound, others say shots fired at her killed her. Brigadier Cheema, a spokesperson for the government said she hit the back of her head hard on a lever on the sun roof of the Landrover in the shock wave of the suicide blast and that caused her death. The Xray of the skull he released clearly shows a hole. Either he is incredibly naive or thinks others are.
With the Iowa primary next week, her death has also surfaced in the US local politics. CNN is playing sound bites from Presidential hopefuls against each other. Hilary Clinton in an exclusive with Wolf Blitzer has declared her lack of faith in Musharraf Administration and has asked for an International Commission to probe her death.
Her Roll of Dice
Benazir Bhutto took a gamble when she ended her exile to return to Pakistan. Today she lies buried in Garhi Khuda Baksh next to her father Zulfikar and brothers Murteza and Shahnawaz.
She was admired and despised in equal measure. Admired by the common Pakistanis as the gritty daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a symbol of hope and defiance against former President Zina ul Haq, a young, educated, articulate person from a wealthy family of Sind. She was voted into power twice. She was admired by the West for her ostensible portrayal of liberal and secular values.
She was dismissed twice as Prime Minister on charges of corruption, nepotism and ethnic cleansing. She was also despised for her lack of tolerance within her party, for her autocratic ways when in power, for her arrogance and insensitivity to those in her service. She tolerated no dissent and developed no hierarchy in the party.
The Musharraf Administration is in a quandary. Pressure is on from the West to go ahead with the January 8 elections. With her successor yet to settle and consolidate (more on this shortly,) and Nawaz Sharif calling for a boycott, the elections obviously cannot go on schedule.
There are whispers from Benazir’s PPP to go ahead and participate in the elections and cash in on the wave of sympathy for the assassinated leader. Should that happen, Nawaz Sharif may yet again change his mind and agree to participate. [He is another thali ka baigan - a ditherer and procrastinator with short memory span, who is as autocratic and intolerant as Benazir was in her party.]Preliminary Assessment
Winners: Baitullah Mahsud, Pakistan Talibans/Alqaeda, Jamaat e Islami and other right wing parties and orthodox Wifaq ul Madaris members.
Losers: Liberals, democrats, activists, citizens.
Baitullah Mahsud, the Pakistan Taliban leader on the run is a very strong suspect for the Pindi blast. He is also a prime suspect in carrying out the Karachi blast on October 18 on Benazir Bhutto that resulted in upwards of 180 deaths. In a statement released through an aide, Mahsud has denied involvement in her assassination.
It could have been avoided but for her fatalism and rolling of the dice. Benazir was still in Dubai, when Musharraf sent emissaries to apprise her of the suicide bombing threat to her. In fact, one of her last publicly acknowledged meeting with a Musharraf functionary was with Gen. Kiani the present army chief, then ISI chief, who apprised her of ground realities in Pakistan and warned her of the consequences. She brushed all those warnings aside and took a gamble in returning to Pakistan.
His options are dwindling by the day. He cannot impose yet another Emergency if things continue to get out of hand. Having relinquished Army Command, imposing Martial Law would be risky for him. It also augurs bad for politicians hoping to usher in some form of democracy in Pakistan.
Succession: Amin Fahim, Aitezaz Ahsan and Asif Zardari
Benazir, like most autocrats at heart, did not develop a hierarchy within her party. She wrestled the chairmanship from her mother and awarded herself the coveted title for life.
There are unconfirmed reports that in her will she has mentioned that the leadership of the party should remain within the Bhutto family. If true, the two leading candidates would be her apolitical sister Sanam and Benazir’s son Bilawal who is 19 years old.
Other candidates who can lay a claim would be Makhdoom Amin Fahim, a Sindhi, who looked after the party affairs in Pakistan while she was in exile. Asif Zardari, the Mr. 10 % is also in the running.
The PPP member who garners most respect nationwide is Aitezah Ahsan - a long time PPP member and very much in the fore front since March 09,2007 leading the case for former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Because of his immense popularity and respect within Pakistan and abroad Benazir and her minions have been cold shouldering Aitezaz Ahsan.
The other dark horse is the shadowy Rehman Malik, former head of FIA. Pakistan TV showed Asif Zardari and Rehman Malik prominently as they lowered Benazir’s body in the grave. If the two link up with other shadowy operatives and manage too wrestle the leadership away from long time party supporter and leaders, then the outcome will be hard to guess.
The US has two over riding objectives and concerns.
First is the control of what some say the breeding grounds for Al Qaeda terrorists. – control of Al Qaeda and their proxy, the Pakistani Talibans. The Talibans are mainly Pushtoons and live in the North West straddling both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
They were the abandoned orphans of the Afghan War – the US used them and discarded them when their objective was realized.
The second US concern is the control of Pakistan’s Nuclear weapons. President Musharraf has gathered that control under himself with tacit US approval.
In parachuting Benazir they had hoped for a political solution for their first objective. They had hoped that Benazir could come to a political understanding with the Taliban and the Pushtoons.
Simultaneously, the Bush Administration needs President Musharraf and the Army to be in firm control of the Nuclear weapons.
The elections, if and when they are held, will have a predictable outcome. The results are fomented in GHQ and are known to the insiders days before they are held. This is the sad reality of an army occupied Pakistan.
Before here death, I had heard this: the elections would be a play on around 230 seats in the NA. A good bet would be 70-8- seats each for PPP, PML(N) and PML(Q). The elections would happen when the GHQ/ISI feel confident they can deliver pre-determined 'results.'
Anticipating this Benazir had taken to saying this in her interviews and rallies that if PPP does not win a majority she would no accept the ‘rigged’ elections.
Washington is caught without fig leaves. The dichotomy of their foreign policy is exposed and well known. In their doublespeak, they talk of democracy and human rights but show a propensity for dealing with puppets and autocrats – Zina ul Haq, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak King Hussain, the Saudi-Americans – the list is endless. They wanted to parachute Benazir while propping the occupying army.
This reluctant marriage was accepted by Musharraf and Benazir, who had no love lost for each other. Now with her assassination, the US is back to square one. Is there a plan B?
Who can replace Benazir and deliver? Should they explore General Kayani? How will the lawyers and activists, in the fore front of the restoration of democracy movement take another Army foray into politics? Can Imran Khan be persuaded to fill the political void?
The only thing that can be said with certainty is the coming months will be full of uncertainty. And the forces of dark glow with glee at it.