Pundits, lacking any immediate answers, have been driven to speculation as to who killed Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and why. But in the ensuing confusion that has enveloped the country in the wake of her assassination, the truth may be hard to find and long in coming. At this stage, in trying to make sense of this immense tragedy, it is perhaps the ‘where’ that counts more than anything.
If one looks into the social and political context of Pakistan as a modern state, a picture of unbalanced extremes become immediately apparent. Pakistan was born of the inability of India’s Muslims and Hindu’s to coexist peacefully. To be sure, some of this tension resulted from divide and rule tactics of the British colonialists, but no amount of colonialism can account for the utter brutality of the transition. As the death toll mounted, even the wise and universally revered leader Mahatma Ghandi, threw his hands up in despair, remarking at a 1942 rally, “Leave India to God. If that is too much, leave her to anarchy.” Most telling of all, women were especially brutalized in the transition. “Ghost trains” of women with their breasts cut off would arrive on either side of the India-Pakistan border sent from opposite sides.
With the partition of India and Pakistan into separate religious enclaves, one would have thought that the reasons for conflict would have abated. But this is not so. Politically motivated assassinations and violent coups have continued to plague Pakistan. Moreover, the plight of women in the country is in some respects shockingly deplorable. On the one hand, it elects a liberal, Harvard-educated woman as its’ Prime Minister, and on the other, teenage women are regularly gang-raped to exact customary ‘justice’ for various perceived wrongs committed by other members of their family. In keeping with the one step forward, two steps back pattern, the Pakistanis have now allowed their liberal, western-educated, female Prime Minister, a shining example of social progress, to get shot down in the street like a stray dog.
In a search for answers, there has been a flurry of finger pointing back and forth about Mrs. Bhutto’s security arrangements. While under house arrest after returning to Pakistan from years of self-imposed exile, Mrs. Bhutto sent letters to U.S media outlets, including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, complaining about the Pakistani government’s refusal to grant her security requests. But as an opposition leader who needed to connect with the people, there is no possible way she could have been protected against suicide bombers without distancing herself from her base of support. President Musharraf, by contrast, would never have ridden on a widely publicized route with his head sticking out of the open roof of a vehicle.
Mrs. Bhutto knew exactly where she was, and she knew the risk she was taking. Bhutto might have calculated that her visibility in the West would ensure her personal security long enough to achieve a measure of political power. Or perhaps, like Martin Luther King, Jr., who constantly marched in the face of death with hardly any real protection, she knew that the risks of doing nothing, staying out of the fray while her people continued to suffer under the oppression of vile terrorists, were greater than the risks to her personal safety. If her example of courage in the face of ignorance is truly understood by the Pakistani people, then perhaps her death will not have been in vain.
Perhaps we can come together and all hope that in the face of global indignation at the cowardly assassination of a defenseless civilian, elements of Pakistani society would take a good look at themselves and be shamed into changing their ways. But let’s not get our hopes up too high. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is a country that is so infected with religious zealotry that it appears to be allergic to democratic progress. The agents of ignorance, from wherever sector they may have come, hate the prospect of government by consent rather than by decree. And in keeping with tradition of disrespecting women, it boils them to the core when an educated woman steps out of her prescribed bounds and dares to speak truth to political power.
Let’s face it Mrs. Bhutto’s murder was a senseless waste of life that serves no one’s real interests. It doesn’t benefit President Musharraf who has taken pains to remake himself as a civilian leader and ally of the West. It doesn’t serve the United States’ goal in bringing stability to the region and stamping out terrorism. And it definitely doesn’t serve the interests of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, who, in murdering a leader popular among the poor and disaffected, risk alienating their base. The only interest this senseless act of utter evil serves is the interest of ignorance.