Benazir Bhutto’s assassination outside Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi, on December 27, 2007, remains a whodunit with striking similarities to President Kennedy’s murder. Both waved to a cheering crowd when they were shot. Kennedy’s murderer, Lee Oswald, was eliminated before the trail could be followed. In Benazir’s case, the murderer, “wearing dark glasses, appeared on the left. He suddenly pulled out a pistol and fired three shots”. He then blew himself up to reach paradise with lightning speed.
Amir Mir’s painstaking effort would be compelling reading if you like cliff-hangers. But the cliff, in this case, is overgrown with shrubbery—whatever suspense there may have been otherwise has been dissipated by the sheer passage of time. And yet you cannot put aside the book simply because the event it dwells on is four years old. Many more shots have rung out since then, including in the killing of Benazir’s close associate, Salman Taseer.
Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadiri, was rather more brazen than Benazir’s killer. After having pumped Taseer with 24 bullets, he stood by the body, smiling. He believed that what he had done was in pursuit of God’s will. What is even more shattering is the spinelessness of the silent majority.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) shared a frightening story while he was in Delhi recently as a guest of the Dar-ul-Uloom of Deoband. A young man approached him in Peshawar with an extraordinary request: could the Maulana help him be promoted in the list of suicide bombers because his ailing parents were eager to see him go to paradise while they were still alive!
A passage from Amir Mir’s book corroborates what the JUI leader was describing: “The pieces collected from the crime scene by the Punjab Police included one mutilated head (that of the suspected suicide bomber), both his legs as well as his hands on which he had applied henna”. What is the significance of henna? “The Holy Prophet used to apply it on his beard”, as Mir writes. Henna on the suicide bomber’s hands was a celebrative decoration before the journey to paradise.
Asif Zardari’s present presidentship is the unintended consequence of a deal that Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and the Americans had struck after the blowback from the war in Afghanistan, which was beginning to consume Musharraf, George Bush’s reliable ally. The idea was simple: once Benazir became prime minister, popular anger on account of the war would be distributed in three directions: President Musharraf, the army and Benazir herself. It transpires that in high-profile late-night shows in Washington, Benazir had not only promised to fight the war to the end but had also promised to hand over A.Q. Khan to the Americans for interrogation.
Just imagine how this would have registered with the jehadists. Worse, Benazir had clearly misread the mood in Pakistan as her somewhat reckless arrival in Karachi and the attempt on her life demonstrated. As far as Musharraf was concerned, she was simply over-eager. He would have wanted her to return after the 2008 elections. Benazir says as much to the author.
There is a great deal of “inside” information to make this essential reading for those trying to make sense of Pakistan.