Benazir Bhutto: A Critique

Category: Asia, World Affairs Topics: Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan Views: 8143

Benazir Bhutto's assassination is another body-blow for Pakistan, whose trajectory is every day appearing more and more distinct from that of its estranged sister, India. The killing has already caused widespread rioting; if government involvement in the shooting is proven, or at least widely suspected, it might even push Pakistan into full-scale civil war. 

The fatal assassin's bullet in Benazir's neck removes from the scene a courageous, secular and liberal woman who continued to fight on despite a suicide bomb attack aimed at eliminating her the day of her return from exile, and who shrugged off the clear danger to her life that further campaigning entailed. 

It gives further momentum to Pakistan's religious extremists in their campaign to turn Pakistan into a Taliban-like Islamist state, and may well lead to the postponement of the January 8 election... 

Benazir's death is also, of course, a personal tragedy, both for the striking woman who embodied the hopes of so many liberal Pakistanis, and for her family. Benazir Bhutto has three children who will now be left motherless, and a party-the most popular in the country-which will be left leaderless. She has no clear successor, and trained up no one as a deputy who can easily fill her shoes. As she said herself in her last speech, shortly before being killed, "Bomb blasts are taking place everywhere", "The country is in great danger." 

The West always had a soft spot for Benazir. Her neighbouring heads of state may have been figures as unpredictable and potentially alarming as President Ahmadinejad of Iran and a clutch of Afghan warlords-but Benazir has always seemed reassuringly familiar to Western governments. 

She spoke English fluently because it was her first language. She had an English governess, went to a convent run by Irish nuns, and rounded off her education with degrees from Harvard and Oxford. For the Americans, what Benazir Bhutto wasn't was possibly more attractive even than what she was: she wasn't a religious fundamentalist, she didn't have a beard, she didn't organise mass rallies where everyone shouts 'Death to America', and she doesn't issue fatwas against Booker-winning authors-even though Salman Rushdie went out of his way to ridicule her as the Virgin Ironpants in Shame. 

However the very reasons that make the West love Benazir are the same that leave many Pakistanis with second thoughts. Her English may be fluent, but you can't say the same about her Urdu which she speaks like a well-groomed foreigner: fluently but ungrammatically. Her Sindhi is even worse: apart from a few imperatives, she is completely at sea. 

Equally, the tragedy of Benazir's end should not blind us to her as astonishingly weak record as a politician. Benazir was no Aung San Suu Kyi, and much of the praise now being heaped upon her is misplaced. In reality, Benazir's own democratic credentials were far from impeccable. She colluded in massive human rights abuses, and during her tenure, government death squads in Karachi were responsible for the abduction and murder of hundreds of her MQM opponents. Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, killings and torture. 

Within her own party, she declared herself the lifetime president of the PPP, and refused to let her brother Murtaza challenge her for its leadership. When he was shot dead in highly suspicious circumstances outside her home, Benazir was implicated. His wife Ghinwa, and her daughter Fatima, as well as Benazir's own mother, all firmly believed that she gave the order to have him killed. 

As recently as this autumn, Benazir did and said nothing to stop President Musharraf ordering the US and UK-brokered "extraordinary rendition" of her rival Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, and so remove from the election her most formidable rival. Many of her supporters regarded her deal with Musharraf as a betrayal of all her party stood for. 

Benazir also, famously, presided over the looting of Pakistan. In 1995, during her rule, Transparency International named Pakistan one of world's three most corrupt countries. Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari-widely known as 'Mr 10 Per cent'-faced corruption charges in Pakistan, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. 

Moreover, personally, as well as intellectually, she was a lightweight, with little grasp of economics; nor did she subscribe to any firm political philosophy. Benazir's favourite reading was royal biographies and slushy romances: on a visit to her old Karachi bedroom, I found stacks of well-thumbed Mills & Boons lining the walls; a striking contrast to the high-minded and cultured Indira Gandhi, in some ways her nearest Indian counterpart in their flawed centrality to their respective nations' histories. 

Partly as a result of this lack of ideological direction, Benazir was a notably inept administrator. During her first 20-month-long premiership, astonishingly, she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation, and during her two periods in power she did almost nothing to help the liberal causes she espoused so enthusiastically to the Western media. It was under her watch that Pakistan's secret service, the ISI, helped instal the Taliban in Pakistan, and she did nothing to rein in the agency's disastrous policy of training up fundamentalist extremists to do the ISI's dirty work in India and Afghanistan. 

Benazir was a feudal landowner, whose family owned great tracts of Sindh. Real democracy has never thrived in Pakistan in part because landowning remains the principal social base from which politicians emerge. The educated middle class-which in India gained control in 1947-is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. Behind Pakistan's swings between military government and democracy lies a surprising continuity of interests: to some extent, Pakistan's industrial, military and landowning elites are all interrelated and look after one another. The recent deal between Musharraf and Benazir, intended to exclude her only real rival, Nawaz Sharif, was typical of the way that the army and the politicians have shared power with minimal reference to the actual wishes of the electorate. 

Today Benazir is being hailed as "a martyr for freedom and democracy", at least in the American networks. Yet in many ways she was the person who did more than anything to bring Pakistan's strange variety of democracy-really a form of 'elective feudalism'-into disrepute and helped fuel the growth of the Islamists. 

Now, amid the mourning and shock, there is also some hope that Benazir's death could yet act as a wake-up call for the secular and moderate majority in the country. The PPP still contains many of Pakistan's most talented politicians-such as the leader of the lawyers' movement, the articulate Cambridge-educated Aitzaz Ahsan, or the stylish human rights activist, Sherry Rehman, who was a former editor of Pakistan's best newsmagazine, The Herald. If such people were to take over the party, rather than more Sindhi feudals like Benazir's corrupt husband, Asif Ali Zardari (today apparently the frontrunner at the beginning of the race), or the PPP's vice-chairman, Amin Fahim, they could open it up to the urban middle class, and steer the party into power as a genuinely democratic, meritocratic and moderate force for good. 

If this were to happen, there is still a glimmer of hope that Benazir's death might yet strengthen democracy in Pakistan, and end the long and disastrous period of power-sharing between the country's landowners and their military cousins. But sadness at the demise of this courageous woman should not mask the fact that she was as much part of Pakistan's problems as its solution. 

William Dalrymple's new book, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, has recently been awarded the Duff Cooper Prize for History.

  Category: Asia, World Affairs
  Topics: Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan
Views: 8143

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Older Comments:
Salaam..I feel this article was well written, and although it may have expressed an opinion many don't agree with it was an opinion worth expressing. I think many when remembering Bhutto, forget that in our beautiful religion it is established that women are not to be rulers of nations. This is what Allah has willed, as tragic as it is in. And as we all know Allahu A'lem.

The author has covered most aspects of BB's life, rule & demise however he may not have enough knowledge of various other facts as he praises Aitezaz Ahsan the lawyer.
Aitezaz was a part of the PPP the political party of Bhutto's, while he was also a part of the cabinet during the rule of PPP and have been responsible for brutal killings of numerous people as well as the famous massacre of women in Hyderabad, Sindh. He is definitely an intelligent lawyer with great command on Pakistani Law however that qualification is overshadowed by the brutality embedded in his personality. He is one of the sources who took the opportunity to lure the Chief Justice into political activism, not to mention he also represented the Chief Justice in his matter before the Judicial Inquiry Commission and then conducted as a lawyer in other cases being heard in the court of his own client the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry! which consititues commission of Conflict of Interest on part of both, the attorney & the Chief Justice.
Sherry Rehman whom I dont know very much about appears to be a highly qualified lady, however her political temperament as evident from her conversation & statements in the media are quite controversial & conspiratory, in a recent exchange on air briefly after BB's demise one of the Pakistani TV asked her opinion about the unrest and burning down of the Pakistani infrastructure while she responded by saying that it will not stop and may even go on to further extent if the Govt. of Pakistan did not say out loud what the PPP wishes to hear from it, this was a clear admission by her that the unrest in the streets of Pakistan was created and carried on by the PPP & supporters of Bhutto, I find such action on her part to be very immature & irresponsible specially since she represents a political party that is aspiring to win elections & rule the country!

Exactly what I was thinking. This article is very good and true. I am deeply sadened that someone died in this way, however people in the west seem to forget or perhaps dont even know the truth of what happened before, when she was in power.

It is surprising to see that muslism including soem scholars. in US and UK. seem to nod their heads when a nonmuslim he or she describes a muslims as good or bad a trerrorist or peace makers, is the quran not enough for us to differntiate between individuals Has'nt Allah told us about the differnet people with different personalities which exist in the world do we have to read articles only from nonmulsum to beleive the truth . if they demonise someone we beleive it if they personify someone we beleive it. only some of us are the ones who make thier individual opinions . are most of us falling into the category of munafiqqon . it is said in ahadith that at the end of time . muslims will follow the kuffar so much that if they (nonmuslims were to lead them in a lizard's hole they will do so. what a shame no wonder we are being sent down punishment in so many wasy even though some of us also have riches and education. muslims living in the west should stop being hypocrites or munafiqun. with our own religion and brethern for sake of material things.which are nothing but temporary. unfortunately this disease of nifaaq is more common among pakistanis here and some arabs muslims also. Allah does not change the condition of apeople until they change themselves. come on muslims have your own identity. dont be mouth pieces for your enemies .
learn your lessons from history.


Knowing all that we know about the reign of BB and what all took place or what her "democracy" spelled or meant then & now, I have ceased to go into depth describing the improprieties and atrocities committed by her & her father's rule in power, based on my commitment & understanding of our faith that she is now beyond scrutiny by us humans and in the most supreme court where she will be judged by Allah SWT the Almighty.
Since she was a muslimah in accordance I prefer to offer my condolences to her family, relatives & supporters and pray for her forgiveness as we are directed.
May Allah SWT protect us from brutal & cruel rulers and bless our rulers with the wisdom convyed by our faith of Islam, ameen.

Here is irony, a corrupt person has now been is referred to the media as an angel & Icon for democracy.

Her death is a sad episode, may LORD all mighty have mercy on her soul. Let's talk about her 2 terms as prime minister of Pakistan. Her achievements during this time are NONE with exception to tit for tat decisions against her political opponents, causing millions of dollars in loss to exchequer.

Late Benazir's brother was shot & killed during her regime as prime minister. Did she find his killers while being in power & with utmost authority? People close to her political party say "she was the mastermind to have him killed" Late Benazir's husband was known was Mr. 30% during her 2 terms as prime minister.

I would highly recommend reading this article "Dynasties in the name of democracy"

What a fascinating, conclusive article. It shows that old outdated, nonproductive concepts must be dismissed on its own merit.

The media stated that Bhutto didn't appoint a successor. The average educated citizen of Pakistan with no formal military or family ties to Bhutto should be able to run for president. A democratic leader comes through the ranks not by appointment.

One thing that makes Pakistan a concern outside of its human rights issues is it stewardship of nuclear weapons. For that it should strive to achieve a more stable form of government. This can be done in Pakistan if laws are passed guaranteeing human rights, making it unlawful for a single president to revoke those rights- rights considered inborn- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "We the people" is a great motto; because we live in a place in time where people don't need personal leadership on a national level. We can make our own personal choices. But we will never by productive adults if we are lead as children. The rule of law permits us to take responsibility. If we continue to encourage the personality cult we will be forever children. Lead by those interested only in themselves.

Salam Alaikum to all,
I really did enjoy reading this article a lot. It did shed a little more light on Bhutto. I can understand why some of the people did not like her.
I pray that the people of Pakistain will find peace through Allah. It seems to me that their leaders are about themselves, more than they about about helping the masses. And even the so called democracy. If there was a true democracy there, she would have trained someone else to take her place had something happened to her. Now, they want her son and her husband to lead her party. Pakistain really needs to get rid of theri corrupt system. This is a big reason why the instability is there today, in my opinion.
May Allah guide Muslims everywhere to the right path.

Sister Fatimah

you also have to understand the divisions of pakistan from the time of partition the sindhi people also have half their families in gujrat(india) they are known as memons who still live in areas of jamnagar and kutch some have settled in dubai others in malawi,tanzania and some in midlands in uk,where ever they are the sindhi memons and the people from punjab support their own territories from abroad further dividing the country,rather than supporting the true parties.

This is a really good article, I don't understand why paki[stani] people are destroying cities infrastructure, i.e, burning cars, building, hospitals, schools and etc. She is gone and now move on. Very well said William, "She was as much part of Pakistan's problems as its solutions?"

How vile that someone could start off a dialouge by saying "Brother and Sister Muslims" and in the same paragraph express approval that Benazir Bhutto was murdered. I give you exhibit 'A' as to why Muslims are in such a sad state of affairs today. Some Muslims and I should add too many, have no idea what defines the life of a Muslim. Islam does not sanction murder, those who give approval to murder are ignorant and misguided.

she was going to abolish the islamic culture and promote western. she was going to allow foreign armies on pak soil.

What an irony instead of packing the criminal general she justified his presidency. The daughter failed to learn lesson from the murder of her father.

It is sad that instead of working for the nation she claimed to represent she spent her life lobbying in Washington for a job and in Pakistan defending litigations against her husband Mr 10% commission
(nickname of AA Zardari).

In contrast her father ZA Bhutto industrialized Pakistan (steel mill), founded Atomic program which fueled Nuclear aspirations not just in Pakistan but the Muslim world, strived for independent foreign policy, friendly relations with India (Simla Agreement) and USSR, banned sale of liquor to Muslims in Pakistan (hurt many feelings)...

Listen Brother and Sister Muslims. It does not take wishful thought to know that Benazir Bhutto is nothing but a pirate of the continent and a daylight robber, looting the treasury of Pakistan, murdering or authorising the murder of her own brother, Murtaza, and conniving with her husband, a co-accomplice in the looting crime, to rob the wealth of Pakistan.

I am astounded to the hysterical responds of her supporters after her death. They, it apparently seems almost worship her, as evident in the pictures taken at her grave after her funeral. She came from a lineage stock of born gifted thieves and robbers, her father too was legendary known as a corrupt leader and a possible murderer, hence Zia-ul-haq was right to remove and hang that man.

So what and why all this hysterical demonstrations, euphoria of violence by her supporters resulting from her death. Is she worth the mourning ? I, for once never shed a single tear upon her death. I was just shoched. But I'm amazed, some Pakistanis can't seem to differentiate between gold and rusty cooper, they seems even willing to die for her. And that husband of hers, here he was, giving a press conference, pointing fingers at various parties for the killing, as though he's a saint from Waristan. Such indepth hypocracy.

Pakistanis have a long way to go in democracy, they have to learn that idol worshipping of a figure on grounds of lineage does not work for democracy. That's plain stupidity. Even in Islam, there is no such nonsense.

May be now I should just change my mind from my earlier stand. Now my stand is this, while I still disagree with the killing, I would not condemn it. So what ? Benazir is also a murderer herself. It may be a good thing for Pakistan that she died.

May be that's how ALLAH put events in best sequence, from the wisdom or hikmah that ALLAH only knows.

Please - did it take courage to dive back into politics especially in Pakistan where she was a moving target? Or was it foolhardiness? Or was it a terribly erroneous assumption on her part that the Americans would protect her at all costs? I think it was the latter. Other than that she was a crook. Plain and simple. She robbed the country blind. She even robbed the country's museums to decorate her mansion in Surrey and her penthouse in Paris. Her husband is still known only as Mr. 10% - that is the percentage of bribe he would accept to make any project with the Pakistan government move. I thought bribes were forbidden in Islam. So why do Pakistanis tolerate bribery and corruption? She was very much like her father Bhutto- who was also an experienced crook with a flair for teh dramatics and coupled with proven charges of murder and torture he was soundly hanged. Bad seed from a bad seed. Lets not alleviate this woman. Yes it is bad she was murdered. No she was not a hero or courageous and neither did she do a miserable thing for Pakistan or Muslims anywhere, anytime.

Unfortunately, the poorly educated, emotional and gullible Pakistani's just want the easy way. They'll fall for false promises made by politicians. You can have anyone do anything with a little rishwat, including the politicians themselves. The reason why the country has never had success is because everyone is out for themselves. There is no WE, so how can there be a democracy? Bhutto already had 2 terms. So where are we today? How would she or her party make things any different? Did she have new tricks to experiment with up her sleeve? I think it's just the love of money and hoarding of property. Not democracy and justice. How could it be democratic if her son is in her place? Plus, he's only 19. And daddy will run the show? Wow, Pakistan. You are truly asleep!

Conspicuous by their absence from the Gandhi assassinations were the ten to twenty percent of India's citizens who happened to be Muslim. It seems there was a Hindu gunman, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber and a pair of Sikh gunmen. The only new thing in this assassination might be the part played by a suicide bomber in making identification of a gunman more difficult.


I am indifferent!


She had her chance as the PM of the country - TWO TIMES! We elected her for OUR OWN betterment. But all she ever did was to grab the poor nations wealth (1,5 billion USD?) and her husband Zardari demanded 10% from all government deals. So her husband is today known as Mr 10%. Had she done her job in the first place then we would not have a military government today and terrorists walking around in our cities. What we see today is the result of the politics of the 90's which she helped to shape.

You may call me sick, twisted, even mad. But I was one of the persons who were in a way happy that Benazir is out of the picture. The only sad part is the way she had her exit and the unrest that came after her death - thats all.

I came home from work and turned on my PC. The headline was "Benazir Bhutto's assasination". It grieves me, I never known or heard anything about her until she returned from exile. I was so worried about her death but one thing is clear; this is not about religion, its all politics. I hate the idea of the west saying islamist extremists killed her.
It's just like what happened in Nigeria few years ago between two politians that led to one's death and the other been a suspect. This has nothing to do with religion at all. However, most of these middle eastern countries are islamic world. To my own point of view, i believe that's only thing that will work(islamic Law)not because am a Muslim but because truth must prevail.
As for the West interfaring in Pakistani government, they only filling there pocket, they put there money where they can eat not for so called love of Democracy in the region but because of their own selfish interests. Am not really concern about the West but about the Muslim leaders themselves who receive bribe to persecute their own people. Bhutto's death hurts me and I extend my condolense to her but I believe she served the interest of the West. How could she call some people Terrorists or Extremists why she knew for sure that the Terrorists wear suits and Black shoes if you understand. I am not probing anyone but I condenm the idea of Bhutto and Musharraf himself for allowing the West to bomb a Mosque. I am only concern about the future of islam and not selfish interest of Muslim leaders. Until we all unite and face these common enemies who are ready to kill and clean their hands(claim innocent) or else there will continue to be killings and robbery in the Muslim world. May Benazir Bhutto's soul rest in peace. I only obeject to her western ideaology of governing. I believe being a Muslim at least will safe Butto from Hell Fire. Let's all come together and stop beeing brainwashed by the so called 'Democracy'.Lets support the freedom fighters.

Very well said. She was nothing but a glamourous face without a brain or Idiology. She played in the hands of her feudal husband and society. She did nothing for the Pakistan but a lot for her families personal gain. She added more misery to the lives of common people in Pakistan. Gap widened more between Sindhi's and non Sindhi's during her two terms in office.