Benazir’s unsolved murder mystery and Musharraf’s expected return
Benazir Bhutto (BB) was the first women prime minister in the Muslim world. She remained in power twice and earned worldwide fame. Helped by her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the couple amassed substantive wealth during the two stints in power. During Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure (1997-99), the Ehtesab Bureau had prepared dozens of cases against the couple concerning money laundering and corruption. When she realized that the noose was tightening around her neck, she decided to go in exile to London in 1998. During her period of exile, she was leading a Queen’s life abroad. She shuttled between London and Dubai where she had palatial residences. All her children were with her and attending their schools. Her husband had been released from jail by Gen Musharraf and he had joined his family in Dubai in 2006. Her ailing mother Nusrat Bhutto was also inDubai. She was free of worries of administering a difficult state like Pakistan where her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) had been hanged to death. God had given her everything and the couple had so much of wealth and property abroad that they could spend the rest of their lives in royal style.
Yet she chose to return to Pakistan in 2007 at a time when the whole country was engulfed in the flames of terrorism and life had become insecure due to frequent suicide attacks and bomb blasts. She preferred to go back despite massive smear campaign against her by the state machinery. She stuck to her decision knowing that she couldn’t do so under normal circumstances because of high profile pending court cases. She was so obsessed with the idea of becoming the prime minister for the third time that she didn’t mind accepting the crutches provided by Gen Musharraf and Washington. She happily struck a power sharing deal with Gen Musharraf. Instead of contesting the court cases she gladly agreed to the issuance of infamous NRO, which absolved her and her top PPP leaders including Zardari of all the corruption charges. In return, the elected members of PPP didn’t block Gen Musharraf’s election for second five-year tenure on 6 October 2007. The appeal of power was so strong that she ignored repeated warnings of her well-wishers that her life was in danger. The Taliban had given her threats because of her controversial statements, which she made to earn the confidence of Washington.
Since she was destined to die an abnormal death in Pakistan, death pulled her in that direction and all the obstacles lying in her path got removed and she landed in Karachi on 17 October 2007. Before homecoming, she wrote a letter to Musharraf and named three persons whom she felt could harm her. As a consequence to bomb blast on her cavalcade in Karachi in which she had a narrow escape, an FIR was registered on 19 October in which Chief Ministers of Punjab and Sindh and DG IB were named as suspects. On 26 October, she sent an e-mail to Mark Siegel which was passed on to CNN Wolf Blitzer. It said if anything happened to her she would hold Musharraf responsible. E mail was made pubic by Zardari on the following day of her murder on 27 December 2007.
Millions of Jayalas and her fans who loved her couldn’t save her from the assassin’s bullet. Her sudden and tragic death paved the way for Zardari who had been left behind in Dubai by her and had not been given party ticket to contest the election scheduled in January 2008. The dubious ‘will’, supposedly left behind by BB helped Zardari in taking over as co-chairperson of PPP and his son whom he named as Bilawal Bhutto as chairman. But for sudden and tragic death of BB, Zardari could never have become the President. That way, he benefited the most as a consequence to her departure.
BB’s pompous life, her charms and gaiety have all become part of history. PPP leaders shed crocodile tears to express their deep sorrow, cut cakes on her birthdays, hold death anniversary every year, plonk her name on roads, airports and educational institutions, and raise vociferous slogans that ‘BB Zinda Hai’ (BB is alive). They perform these theatrics merely to keep the Jayalas under her spell, but the fact is that no amount of chest beating or sloganeering will bring her back to life. The best service they could have rendered her was by fulfilling the mission of ZAB and BB of providing bread, clothes and shelter to the poor and alleviating their sufferings. Alas! Their four year misconduct must have made the two great leaders quiver in agony in their graves. The ones who were closest to BB have all been sidelined and opportunists and unelected persons allotted plum appointments.
Four years have lapsed and so far BB’s murderers have not been traced. This is in spite of the fact that Zardari stated that he knew her killers. Probe by the UN Commission at taxpayers cost wasted more than a year and ultimately proved inconsequential. Inordinate delay in solving the murder mystery has given rise to suspicions that the ones trying to catch the culprits maybe the actual murderers. Musharraf, Zardari, Rahman Malik and Babar Awan are among the suspects. While Musharraf is in exile since August 2008 and is desperate to enter into the political arena in Pakistan and try his luck in coming elections, the other three are holding topmost appointments. Zardari purposely preferred seat of President over Premiership to acquire immunity from prosecution by courts. With powers under Article 58-2b and seat of co-chairpersonship, he became the most powerful civilian President.
Rahman Malik and Babar Awan are neither elected nor old PPP stalwarts, but are closest to Zardari and are playing a lead role in state affairs. On the fateful day of BB’s murder, these two gentlemen were sitting in the escort car which was supposed to remain nearest to BB’s car. After BB finished her speech in Liaquat Bagh and was on her way out, surprisingly her vehicle wheeled right instead of left and the escort car sped away towards Islamabad. At the time of suicide bombing against her vehicle and sniper firing, her vehicle was unescorted. There was nobody to evacuate her to the hospital. Rehman Malik, appointed as her security in-charge, returned to the hospital much after the gruesome attack. There are several other intriguing aspects like prompt washing of the scene of murder, refusal of Zardari to conduct post-mortem of the body which have not been answered. The government is in no hurry to expedite the investigation. In fact, after the UN inconclusive inquest, the matter had been put in a cold freezer and was reactivated only when media made noise and pressure from within PPP ranks intensified. Nawaz Sharif upped the ante during his recent public address in Larkana. He pledged that if voted to power he would catch and punish the killers of his sister BB. Feeling the heat, Rahman Malik has now claimed that all conspiring elements and those involved in BB’s assassination had been arrested and would be exposed at an opportune time. This is yet another farce being played.
Having seen the fate of BB, it seems Musharraf has not learnt any lesson. Like her, he is also vying to return to Pakistan. He is leading a comfortable life in London and receives heavy payments for his lectures in various educational institutes in USA and western countries. He has accumulated so much of wealth during his little over eight-year stint in power that he can live a lord’s life in London where he has an expensive flat in elitist constituency. The magnitude of his wealth can be measured from the fact that he managed to establish a political party which he has named as All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). He has announced to return back before March 2012. The APML will spend Rs117 million for publicity campaign to welcome him. Rs 629 million will be spent on transport and other arrangements for his public meeting upon his arrival.
During his rule, seven attempts were made on his life; two of these were deadly. He is accused of subverting the Constitution twice which falls under Article 61 of the Constitution. He is accused of getting Nawab Akbar Bugti murdered in August 2006. An FIR to this effect has been registered inQuetta and based on the petition filed; the court has issued his warrants of arrest. Afghan Taliban must not have pardoned him for his betrayal. The Baloch and Pashtuns of FATA hate him since he had initiated military operations against them. Religious groups also bear a grudge against him since he had mistreated them. Victims of Guantanamo Bay Prison as well as family of Dr Aafia Siddiqui who had been handed over by him to USA cannot forgive him. Sharif brothers also carry a deep rancour and want his trial.
Great majority of people are of the view that his flawed policies and issuance of NRO to prolong his rule are responsible for the current deplorable state of affairs of the country. Despite all these threats, he is determined to return because the perks and privileges he can enjoy in Pakistan are unavailable in the west. His fans have led him up the garden path that owing to poor performance of the present regime, the people will welcome him. They are right to some extent since it cannot be denied that in terms of governance, economic management, competence and results obtained, Musharraf’s rule was much better. However, weighing the pros and cons, the weight of cons is heavier than the pros. He cannot be excused for the compromises he made to please USA. Pakistan is suffering on account of those compromises which impinged upon security and national interests.
His recent demand for security guarantees from Pak Army is similar to the one made by BB. He must remember that ground situation has radically changed. In 2008, the US was in a strong position to twist the tail of NRO cleansed rulers. Zardari had secretly made an agreement with UK andUSA not to impeach or try him and to provide him safe exit in return for accepting him as the next president. He had committed to his mentors that Musharraf would be given a choice whether to stay in Pakistan or proceed abroad and that he would be allowed to stay in the Army House till the completion of his house in Chak Shezad and provided full security as long as he stayed here.
He was allowed to proceed abroad with full honours and to carry with him security guards, personal assistant and a batman. He retained these facilities for quite sometime. Pak-US relations are at present at its lowest ebb and terms of engagement are being revised. Zardari himself is under substantial pressure and is planning to move over to London from Dubai for treatment. There are strong rumours that in the light of shield of NRO taken away by the Supreme Court and linkage of memogate with 2 May incident getting established, he may opt to prolong his stay abroad till such time the situation reverts to normal. Under the changed circumstances and security threats, wisdom demands that Musharraf should stay put inLondon for some more time and let the tempers of his adversaries cool down. If he thinks that he will become a fourth force and become popular like Imran Khan, he is sadly mistaken.