Jan 7, 2008
On December 27, Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Popular Party of Pakistan (PPP), was assassinated in a suburb of Islamabad during a campaign rally. A bomb was subsequently set off, killing the bomber and 20 other people.
Benazir Bhutto had been prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. She was the first woman elected as the head of a Muslim country. But her two mandates ended in her removal under charges of corruption.
To avoid legal pursuit, she went into exile in London in 1998. But with the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf crumbling, the United States and Great Britain pushed Musharraf to form a unity government with Bhutto. Musharraf granted her amnesty. She returned to her country in mid-October, escaping the first attempt on her life, which left 135 others dead. While campaigning to win the January 2008 election Benazir Bhutto was killed.
For over 40 years, the Pakistani state has been in crisis. Long periods of military dictatorship have contributed to the deterioration of the political situation, but the crisis flows from U.S. policies since the birth of Pakistan. All its leaders – whether civilian or military – have always acted in agreement with various American administrations.
The nuclear program, for example, was launched by the father of Benazir Bhutto, Ali Bhutto, and developed further during the dictatorship of General Muhammad Zia, with the help of the U.S.
Pakistan served as the rear base for the Islamic fighters who during the 1980s attacked first the existing government of Afghanistan, then Soviet troops who went into Afghanistan. At the time, the United States aided Bin Laden and the future Taliban to construct their network. U.S. policy was to fight what Reagan called “ the Evil Empire,” that is, the Soviet Union. Aiding the Islamic fighters against the Soviet Union was considered a good move in this war.
In the 1990s, Pakistan gave logistical support to the Taliban as they took over Afghanistan. The U.S. considered Bin Laden and the Taliban better than the secular allies of the Soviet Union.
September 11 and its aftermath forced a revision of U.S. policy in the region. But the policy led by the Bush administration in the rest of the Middle East – supporting Israel unconditionally against the Palestinians and its own armed intervention and military occupation of Iraq and of Afghanistan – heightened the exasperation of the popular masses, thus sowing the ground on which the Islamic fundamentalists prosper.
No matter what happened, Washington kept its direct relationship with the Pakistani army. This army has to give an account to Washington each month about the situation on the Pakistan-Afghan border. After the recent state of siege, the Bush administration demanded that elections be held in Pakistan no matter what the cost – no matter that a part of the population refused to participate, that the judicial situation was paralyzed, that high officials were put into prison, that the media was censored and that political leaders were put under house arrest. For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to follow the policy proposed by Washington and to participate in the elections cost her life.
The death of Benazir Bhutto is a serious check for the U.S. government’s hopes to give the dictatorship of Musharraf a new face. The young son of this assassinated leader agreed to succeed his mother, but one does not inherit political influence as easily as a financial fortune.
In the meantime, Washington has no other choice but to continue to count on the Pakistani army, although it too is permeated by Islamic influence. The United States may be tempted to push Musharraf aside, given that he is discredited, and to replace him with another military leader. But what will this accomplish?
The U.S. today is paying the cost of its previous policies – policies that have worsened the situation of hundreds of millions of people throughout the Middle East.