Benazir Bhutto

by Chris Bertram on December 27, 2007

“Terrible news from Pakistan”: , which, no doubt is the prelude to more appalling violence and loss of life. Whatever else can be said about Benazir Bhutto, it showed tremendous courage to return to Pakistan and to contest the elections when her assassination was always likely. It seems wrong to try to say much more than that at present.

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What blogosphere is saying on Benazir Bhutto « churumuri
12.27.07 at 4:08 pm



abb1 12.27.07 at 4:30 pm

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.


P O'Neill 12.27.07 at 5:10 pm

I think there one odd similarity with Ingrid Betancourt as both of them carried on campaigning despite knowing of the enormous personal risks.


Shelby 12.27.07 at 7:09 pm

Shocking news (and deeply saddening), but alas not surprising.


astrongmaybe 12.27.07 at 7:19 pm

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. In ordinary life, I suppose so. But how long are we supposed to swim with the tide of sentimentalism and spin? How soon can we start with skepticism and the truth again? After the funeral?


chris y 12.27.07 at 9:11 pm

I suspect Chris’ point may have been less De motuis.., than that at a time when an important and populous country is going down in flames and nobody has a clue who did this, it might be appropriate to shut up until we are better informed.

Or I may, of course, be wrong.


astrongmaybe 12.27.07 at 9:18 pm

@6 until we are better informed

We are reasonably well informed about the recent and the longer-term past. Why shouldn’t we immediately contest disingenuous platitudes and self-serving historical amnesia when we hear it? And I’ve heard a ton of it in the last few hours.


chris y 12.27.07 at 9:22 pm

We are reasonably well informed about the recent and the longer-term past.

Indeed. Fuck self serving amnesia. Which said, do you have anything useful to add about the present situation in Pakistan which doesn’t fall under the heading of disingenuous platitudes? Because if so, you’re the first person with a printing press or a modem to come up with such.


astrongmaybe 12.27.07 at 9:29 pm

Nope, except the ingenuous platitude that there’s not much enlightenment to be had from the spume of instant-reaction. So I guess we’re all basically in agreement.


Tim 12.27.07 at 9:43 pm

I suggest heading over to The Agonist to get Stirling Newberry’s take. Or Juan Cole’s to get a brief overview of Musharraf’s 2007 screwups.

I think Stirling’s point is most important – halfway through his (very) short email, he said that “ironic though it is, Bhutto may serve better as a martyr for democracy than as an advocate”.

Given her pretty ridiculously huge corruption issues, I’d say glossing over her past or engaging in anything close to RFK-like hopes for a possible future with her are too much.

Not that I’ve seen anyone saying that in the lefty blogosphere, it’s mostly along these lines of ‘don’t panic’ – we’re far too smart for that, but it is a danger the right falls into all the time. Though to be honest I haven’t checked the usual righties for their viewpoints, so I’ll do that now. Probably lots of yelling about al Qaeda and how we should build a brown people defense shield around the U.S., but still…


astrongmaybe 12.27.07 at 9:55 pm

It’s worth taking a look at Tariq Ali’s piece on the Bhuttos in last month’s LRB:


Chris Bertram 12.27.07 at 11:01 pm

I certainly wasn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Those who are well-informed will I hope enlighten us. I, however, am not well-informed, but have a sense of dread about the future in the light of this murder. Of course, the blogosphere will fill with the babblings of people explaining (as in the dsquared parody) that this proves the correctness of their views about everything. I’m not going to add to their number.


dsquared 12.27.07 at 11:07 pm

The interesting thing is the various theories going round about who the assassin was connected to. So far I’ve counted:

1) the ISI
2) fundamentalist Islam via the Red Mosque
3) Al Qaeda
4) Musharraf himself
5) drug gangs
6) the CIA or other overseas intelligence.

My personal guess is that, as with every political assassination in the last fifty years except one[1], the answer will end up being “all of the above”. Pakistan is a state so utterly captured by deep politics (in the Peter Dale Scott sense) that it’s quite likely that even the guy who pulled the trigger didn’t have a clear idea of what his motives were.

[1] the exception being Olaf Palme, where the assassin was never found at all.


abb1 12.27.07 at 11:11 pm

Drug gangs?


stostosto 12.27.07 at 11:49 pm

[1] the exception being Olaf Palme, where the assassin was never found at all.

[Except that maybe he was in fact found. That is, they found a man — Christer Pettersson — whom Lisbeth Palme identified as the murderer, they even convicted him on the strength of her testimony, but then acquitted him in an appeal. Before he died in 2004 he may have confessed to the murder. Lisbeth Palme always maintained it was him.]


Dan Kervick 12.28.07 at 12:09 am

I suggest heading over to The Agonist to get Stirling Newberry’s take. Or Juan Cole’s to get a brief overview of Musharraf’s 2007 screwups.

Skip the Newberry and go to Cole. It’s just more fustian blather from Newberry.


cw 12.28.07 at 12:20 am

I wonder if it was exceptional courage or exceptional egotism that led to her return. 150 some people died along with her in the two attacks. She knew that attacks were coming and that her supporters would be in danger too.


Quo Vadis 12.28.07 at 12:27 am

For all Ms. Bhutto’s faults, she appears to have been the liberal element’s best hope for a voice in Pakistan. I don’t know what that says about the state of liberalism in Pakistan, but if she was the best hope, what does that say about the second best hope if any exists at all?


rea 12.28.07 at 12:45 am

DSquared, do you really think fundamentalist Islam killed JFK? Or that the CIA was behind blowing up Montbatten? Or that drug gangs killed Theo Van Gogh?

I think the likely explanation is thee Illuminati, myself . . .


Joshua Holmes 12.28.07 at 12:47 am

“If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi


Steve K 12.28.07 at 2:09 am

Well, if we’re speaking ill of the dead, this piece by Benazir’s niece Fatima Bhutto is worth reading.
Fatima accuses her aunt of trying to hijack and destroy Pakistan’s democratic movement (along with a lot of other very nasty things).


Barry 12.28.07 at 2:26 am

Re: Dsquared’s comment #15: the way I see it, possibilities 1-5 are the same set of allied people.


krsa 12.28.07 at 6:17 am

I know it is impolitic to speak of the dead, but the martyrhood being conferred on Ms. Bhutto is a bit much. When alive, she made sure to have a lot of blood on her hands. She played an important and pivotal role during her tenure as Prime Minister in encouraging and nurturing the growth of the Taliban, and continued and further improved upon the contributions of Gen. Zia in this regard. During her tenure as Prime Minister, the narco-terrorist complex that has become so powerful in Pakistan finally achieved maturity, and she played her role in encouraging its growth. It is a bit ironic therefore that elements of this same complex are primary suspects in her killing.

Like her father, she was very good at cultivating her american patrons, hence her reputation as a beacon of “liberalism” which she was anything but.

Having said these nasty things, I still think it is unfortunate that she died this way. I dont think anyone should face such a fate, and I feel particularly sorry for the 150 others who died with her. It is also ominous and bad news for Pakistan and may be a precursor to outright civil war. I think that however criminal she was, her being alive would have at least delayed this possibility and held back the strife and violence that is to come.


A. Y. Mous 12.28.07 at 7:23 am

Benazir was the reason for the creation of Musharaff.

She totally screwed up her second term (the first term was all things nice and sweet with another cute scion, Rajiv Gandhi, who for his part screwed up Sri Lanka with his IPKF and paid the price) by not patching up with Nawaz Sharif (he was Zia ul Haq’s find, the same Zia who executed Benazir’s father, Zulfikar).

Add to that, it should not be forgotten that she was the wife of Mr. Ten Percent. She and he have ruffled many a moneyed man.

Now, finding a common ground, that is, to hold on to what is a thinly veiled Zamindari, Benazir and Nawaz tried hard to patch up. But failed miserably. Each one was trying to make a deal separately with Pervez Musharaff and derail the other. Someone else, most likely the Army, is using this to their benefit. Stopping of the elections is the reason for this assasination. Whether this means stopping or a postponement is another question. My bet is on a postponement that runs into months and not just weeks.

Punjab and Sindh. It never ends. What’s funny is that the Indian national anthem starts with “Punjab and Sindh”.


dsquared 12.28.07 at 12:07 pm

19: oh please my aching sides. Why not make that delectable joke about tin foil hats too? The point is that the social networks of assassins always contain 1) security forces, 2) the main anti-government threat of the day, 3) mainstream politics and 4) organised crime, because (and this is something which it is apparently rude or unserious to mention, despite being a very clearly established fact), there are plenty of formal and informal connections between these milieux. But I’m really not interested in discussing the subject with someone who doesn’t take it seriously.


dsquared 12.28.07 at 12:10 pm

By the way, here’s the cut out and keep collection of Benazir Bhutto editorials and blog posts:

1. Bla bla bla martyr, bla bla loved country, tragedy, father, bla.

2. Bla bla corruption, bla bla western puppet, bla bla popular uprising bla.

3. Bla bla stability, bla bla “strongman”, bla bla Russia bla.

4. Bla bla democracy, Islam, woman, bla bla.

The amount of boilerplate know-nothing crap flying around on the radio yesterday was nothing short of embarrassing. People at think tanks really ought to learn how to say “no, I don’t really know enough to comment” when the opportunity to hear their own voice comes up.


Aidan Kehoe 12.28.07 at 2:39 pm

From that Tariq Ali article:

‘In an interview on an independent TV station just before the emergency was imposed, Benazir was asked to explain how it happened that her brother had bled to death outside his home while she was prime minister [a killing organised almost certainly by Benazir Bhutto’s husband]. She walked out of the studio. A sharp op-ed piece by Fatima in the LA Times on 14 November elicited the following response: ‘My niece is angry with me.’ Well, yes.’

Very sobering.


A. Y. Mous 12.28.07 at 5:31 pm

Hmm…. This is making its round around the alternate media. Sir David interviews Benazir on al Jazeera. Osama bin Laden murdered? Between minutes 2 and 3.


shteve 12.29.07 at 12:33 am

About six months ago I made the point to my Kashmiri in-laws that Musharraf was a military dictator and that democracy had to be given a clear chance in Pakistan. Nothing remarkable. Response: Meh – Bhutto is a corrupt bitch!

We’d been having a few beers.

Couple of days ago Bhutto was murdered, and my sister in law’s response? Meh!

Pakistan’s middle classes have cheap labour to make their existence more fragrant, and think the one drawback of escaping the summer heat by coming to Britain is that they have to “lift things for themselves”.

Lovely people. Screwy country.


Uncle Kvetch 12.29.07 at 12:50 am

Dsquared, we’ve got an addendum to your list over on this side of the pond:

6. Bla bla, country 90% of Americans couldn’t locate on a globe, bla bla, what does this mean for the Iowa caucuses bla?


vivian 12.29.07 at 2:22 am

Not to mention: BLA!! BLAH!! Al Qaida! Blah!



abb1 12.29.07 at 11:24 am

About that “the social networks of assassins” thing – it seems a bit too wide, to the point of being quite meaningless (or was that actually the point?). And if you have “mainstream politics” there, shouldn’t you also include ‘mainstream business’ with your ‘organized crime’? I know, it’s a minor difference.

But what about unaffiliated religious, nationalist and other fanatics, nutcases – you think it can’t happen nowadays, completely impossible? What about Chapman, was he mind-controlled by the FBI?


HantuLaut 12.29.07 at 4:58 pm

She paid dearly with her life.

Pakistan paid a heavy price for giving in to the American.After 9/11, Islamic militants have stepped up their campaign of violence, killing fellow Muslims,without any sense of guilt.Pakistan is going to end up as a failed state and a haven for terrorists and a bigger headache than Iraq.The nuclear bombs they have would be a major disaster if they fall into the wrong hands.


abb1 12.30.07 at 10:39 am

Nah, Pakistan is not going to end up as a failed state, exactly because it has nukes. All the necessary steps (which is, basically, giving bribes, billions of dollars worth of bribes) will be taken by the US and the EU and Russia and China and India and Israel, you name it. No one wants a failed state with nukes.

Having nukes means never having to end up a failed state.


J SYED 12.30.07 at 7:23 pm



Quo Vadis 12.30.07 at 7:30 pm

All the necessary steps (which is, basically, giving bribes, billions of dollars worth of bribes) will be taken by the US and the EU and Russia and China and India and Israel, you name it. No one wants a failed state with nukes.

Conventional wisdom has it that having nukes makes a country less a target of interference by other powers.

We may have to rethink that one.


Sheila Choudhri 12.31.07 at 10:18 pm

Suicide by grandstanding.
Benazir Bhutto committed suicide by cop/terrorist or terrorist/I.S.I sniper or some such combination. Why? Because of a call from Condaleeza. Why did Condaleeza make that call? Because Mush looked weak. Why did Mush look weak? Coz he was stupid enough to neglect to get the Lal Masjid nutters to blow up the Supreme Court Justices or at least make it look that way. But then Mush decided 2007 would be the year he’d make the Pakistani Army look like they couldn’t fight their way out of a paper-bag so as to up the American ante while sticking with traditional Pak strategic goals. In other words, Mush is playing rope-a-dope. And maybe he’ll pull it off, the fellow is on a learning curve- the fact is fuzzy command and strategic multi-vocity is what plays best in a Myrdalian ‘soft state’- also he gets to keep his life, always a good thing, and has a couple of back-doors open to broker the really lucrative deal in the offing- viz, the Osama/Saudi deal .
Meanwhile, the deeply distasteful Nawaz Sharif and equally abhorrent Zardari leering at the cameras and shedding crocodile tears is surely more than most stomachs can bear. Sooner or later the Pakistani public is going to connect the dots- the Bhutto family paint themselves into a corner and take refuge in ‘martyrdom’- but the truth to which they are witness (both the words martyr and ’shaheed’ actually mean witness) is that their inner power to discriminate the worse from the better cause is confined to Iranian cavaire as opposed to Russian Beluga, genuine Rolex as opposed to a cheap knock-off.
Fatima Bhutto, who claims to be a poet, is no better than her Aunty dearest. She claims that her father was a martyr. Some martyr! He shaved off half of his brother-in-law’s moustache- that’s why he was killed. While hiding out with the Soviet backed regime in Kabul, he and his younger brother had masterminded the hijacking of a Pakistani plane. They had their father’s former a.d.c- who happened to be on the plane- shot on the tarmac though he had been completely loyal to their father and even played with them as children. The naive young men the Bhutto brothers used to carry out terrorist attacks were then ruthlessly sacrificed and forgotten. No provision was made for their families.
Fatima attacked Benazir for being responsible for the death of 150 people- at the time of the first suicide attack- all so that Aunty could have her moment of grand theatre- but now, according to her, Aunty too is enrolled in the catalogue of martyrs. As for her uncle- surely he either poisoned himself or was bumped off by his wife while living in the French Riviera. How exactly does that make him a martyr? As for Bhutto Senior, he was executed by his Army Chief after trying to turn himself into a dictator with rigged elections and murders & jailings of political opponents. But, Bhutto had himself deliberately appointed Zia because he thought the man would be his poodle. The Bhutto family are martyrs not of democracy but to their own desire to tyranise over the state. Sadly or happily, they simply lack the judgement and self-control necessary to pull it off. It is because no one can trust them-least of all those who had the misfortune to follow them- that in the ultimate analysis the bandwagon can only be kept going by a grinning gargoyle like Mr. 15% Zardari.
However, all this is beside the point. The question that faces us now is whether there is any diffenece between Condy making a phone call and sending poor deluded Benazir out on her suicide mission and Osama bin Shithead.
In both cases the deluded are sent to destroy themselves for no other purpose but to make failed ideologues believe that the strings they are pulling are actually connected to something meaningful- that ‘regime change’ really occurrs because of what- from the point of view of history- amounts to a fart in a crowded lift.
Heigh ho, still maybe it was fun for them while it lasted and no doubt Christina Lamb can write another cringe-worthy book and Tariq Ali, now deep in his anecdotage, can rehash the same self important shite he’s been peddling all these years and become, more than ever, the image of his feudal grand-father.

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