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Raffique Shah


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Benazir courted martyrdom

By Raffique Shah
December 30, 2007

I was caught between completing my year-end review for the Business Express and watching television where a miracle of sorts-team West Indies actually flogging South Africa's bowlers, Chanders edging his way to another century-was taking place, when the telephone rang. "Are you tuned in to BBC?" asked my friend of umpteen years, Mike Bazie. "No," I replied, telling him about our team's performance. "They just killed Bhutto! Switch channels. It's coming across live." He didn't have to say which Bhutto, or tell me how she was killed. "Hey," I told Mike, "I must watch this cricket it's enthralling we need to make 400-plus runs. I'll check Bhutto in a while."

To many, my lukewarm response to the butchering of Benazir Bhutto probably comes across as that of a heartless man. Let me reassure readers it was not: the death of any human being, be she pauper or princess, cannot be treated lightly. After all, what is more precious then life? And Benazir was among history's larger-than-life characters. But when, a few months ago, she ventured back into the death-dealing cauldron of Pakistan's politics, I wrote her epitaph and an obituary.

Those around me will swear I did. "That woman wants to be a martyr," I said to all who cared to listen. "She's stupider that I thought she was. Or maybe she has a death wish." Composing my "obit", I continued: "In death, her image will be digitally enhanced. If she survives, she'll be de-mystified as just another incompetent, self-seeking Pakistani leader who is incapable of putting together what the country's military and aristocrats have, with backing from the West, rent asunder."

And that's the long and short not just of Benazir's life, but that of the Bhutto dynasty, of a country born of political miscegenation, condemned to failure even as its colonial midwife slapped the newborn on the backside 60 years ago. Those with short memories, with no sense of history, with no ability to dispassionately analyse politics, will not understand why I sound like a sourpuss. If anything, as one among the diaspora, more so coming from the Muslim segment of the sub-continent, and having a father who waved Pakistan's flag during those heady days of independence when I was but a baby, I am expected to conform.

But I never did, not from the time I read and understood what happened during the partitioning of India and Pakistan. How many people, even university students who are studying history and politics, know that there was, until 1971, East Pakistan and West Pakistan? That what is now Bangladesh was part of the whole-at least the way the British dividers saw it-until it inevitably broke away from the West? Few, I imagine. And fewer still would understand the carving up of colonial empires, splitting religious groupings in the Far East and tribal communities in Africa.

Post-colonial Pakistan was always a disaster waiting to happen, much the way the Congo or Rwanda or Somalia, to name just a few, would erupt into civil wars and genocide. One needs to understand, too, the kind of power both the military and the aristocracy have wielded in these countries from way back when. I happened to know a few Pakistani cadets when I was at Sandhurst, and they all came from the officer class that was more class-conscious than their British counterparts! Shortly after Benazir's father, Zulfikar, fell from grace, I asked a Pakistani friend in the UK what went wrong. Why did this man, who held so much promise, not deliver?

Smiling mischievously, he said to me: "Before Bhutto came to power, there were eight wealthy families that ruled Pakistan. Now, there are nine!" He did not need to elaborate. Pakistan's frontline politicians all came from that privileged class. Its military leaders, who have repeatedly intervened by way of coups, see themselves in similar light-except they control the guns. For the masses, there is no hope of clambering out of persistent poverty. They are there only to be used, abused, then consigned to the great statistical cesspool.

It was under General Zia Ul Haq, and funded by the CIA, that Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were given the resources to intervene in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. These fundamentalist Islamic groups thrived in the infamous North-West Frontier well after Benazir first came to power in 1988. In fact, it was then that these groups accomplished their mission, removing the Soviets and establishing an Islamic state in Afghanistan. They then turned their attention to-where else?-Pakistan. Their free rein in that country meant nothing could stand in their way. You sleep with the devil, you live with him.

Benazir's re-entry into Pakistan's murky politics was at the behest of George Bush, who is today shedding tears over her death. After meeting with her last January, he persuaded her to join with Musharraf to bring Al-Qaeda and Pakistan under control. Stupidly, she accepted his invitation.

That she was not killed on the day she returned was a miracle. Her assassination last Thursday was not "shocking", as so many would have us believe. It was inevitable, however sad it may have been. Rest in peace, misguided sister.