February 26, 2020
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Redemption Song

Benazir dreamed of an elusive democracy. It took bullets to stop her.

Redemption Song
Redemption Song
The Fallout
  • Chaos in Pakistan is not good news
  • The peace process will not move forward
  • Some Pakistan experts feel that cross-border terrorism may increase
  • To divert attention from internal problems the ISI may focus on Kashmir


"We will fight for a thousand years."
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, during a strong anti-India speech at the UN security council in 1965. He then waved his finger at the Indian envoy, condemned him for aggression, tore some UN documents, and stormed out of the hall.

The father was known for his quick temper and mercurial brilliance. Benazir Bhutto, by her own admission, was the "daughter of the East"—the title of her autobiography. But she was more than just the chosen successor of a martyred father. "She was a personality in her own right," says Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who had a unique vantage view into the Bhutto home. Between 1978 and 1982, Aiyar, then a career foreign service man, was posted to Karachi as consul-general. His home, India House, was next door to the Bhuttos' Bilawal House in Karachi's plush Clifton area.

In 1979 Zulfiqar Bhutto was hanged, and Aiyar says he saw in the young Benazir "a fierce determination to carry out her father's legacy". In death certainly, she followed the path of her father. Both died young, with so much left to achieve. Both murders left an open wound on the soul of Pakistan, and dashed the hopes of millions.

Pakistan watchers in India say that Benazir's death is bad news for the sub-continent. Vikram Sood, former raw chief and now vice-president of the orf Centre for International Affairs, says when there is chaos in a heavily armed neighbouring country, it inevitably is bad news for India. "There is now uncertainty about the elections, that lacked legitimacy to begin with, but would have at least thrown up a government people could deal with. The future now seems to suggest more killings and suicide missions, a growth in radical Islam and chaos in Islamabad." The biggest worry for India, he says, can be summed in six words: who is in charge of Pakistan?

What's more, Sood believes Benazir was genuinely inclined towards reviving the peace process. She may have reneged on some commitments to India during past tenures as prime minister, but analysts put this down to the schizophrenia every Pakistani premier has to contend with. Even the best intentions of peace and harmony go nowhere when trapped in the labyrinth of the military intelligence-army network that often reduces elected leaders to mere puppets.

Earlier, Pakistan was trapped between the army and the isi. Now, the situation is more deadly, as a potent mix of Allah, army and America's war on terror have made it a nation that appears to be collapsing from within. Sood is worried that if elections do not take place (or if it is a rigged franchise), then the centre could start to give way. "Currently, the army is engaged in fighting battles in Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province. It is suffering heavy losses and in a society based on tribal loyalties, soldiers are being asked to kill their own." He says the apparatus to foment terror activity in Kashmir is intact, although infiltration has gone down. But then he asks—what if after taking a heavy beating on the western borders, army and isi pressure is again pushed towards Kashmir as a diversionary tactic?

Brajesh Mishra, a foreign service man who rose to be principal secretary during the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, says quite bluntly that "Pakistan is spinning out of control". He sees an all-out battle between extremist forces and moderates. "All the bloodshed, the assassinations, the war against the army in the nwfp and the growing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan are signs of the increasing power of radical Islam," he says. India, believes Mishra, does not just have to be vigilant, but must be "proactive" in trying to curb the extremist forces. By proactive, he means coordinating intelligence with other countries and highlighting the gravity of the Pakistan problem at every international forum.

Mishra recalls meeting Benazir when she visited India in 2003. Although she was not a state guest, she was given an audience with both PM Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, besides a meeting with Brajesh himself. He points out that when Vajpayee had made the historic bus journey to Lahore in 1999, Nawaz Sharif was prime minister and Benazir the opposition leader. "But when we met her in India, I felt that she had mellowed. She had in the past taken some anti-India public postures, but over the years had realised the need for peace between the two nuclear neighbours." Mishra, the ultimate insider, reveals another nugget—he believes Nawaz Sharif was genuinely committed to peace, even more than Benazir. One can draw the obvious inference that the Vajpayee-Brajesh establishment did not believe Sharif knew anything about the Kargil incursions that followed just two months after the bus journey.

But G. Parthasarthy, then India's high commissioner to Pakistan, maintains that "no other personality in Pakistan other than Benazir could have pushed the peace process to a level where there would be some real movement." He recalls meeting her at the height of the euphoria over the Nawaz Sharif-Vajpayee meeting in Lahore. Her words to the Indian diplomat were to be prophetic: "I am happy that a commitment to the Simla agreement was reiterated in Lahore. But watch out for the mullah, madrassa and military complex."

Benazir knew exactly what she was up against. It certainly took courage to campaign publicly after she was greeted with an assassination attempt on October 18, the day she returned to Pakistan. Yet she was determined to fight an election, to fight for a democracy that has always eluded Pakistan. Whatever lapses she was guilty of in the past, this time she was playing fair. It took bullets to stop Benazir.

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