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Home > News > Columnists > Sudhir Bisht

Why Musharraf is not responsible for Benazir's death

December 31, 2007

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The slaying of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto [Images] comes as a major blow to the millions of people in the sub-continent who have grown sentimentally attached to the four most charismatic and illustrious families in South Asia. The Nehru-Gandhi family (India), the Bhutto family (Pakistan), the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman family (Bangladesh) and the Kumaratunga- Bandaranaike family (Sri Lanka [Images]) are nearly always mentioned when there is any mention of the political elite of this part of the world.

The members of these families were feted and felicitated when alive and mourned collectively by the nation they belonged to when any of its members met a violent death. These families have been eulogised in their countries to such an extent that they have become synonymous with their countries to the outside world.

But was Benazir's assassination a tragedy that caught us unawares? Well, not really. While we all feel devastated by her death, everyone knew Benazir had been treading a path that was full of shrapnel, suicide bombers and stealthily laid landmines.

Benazir's murder makes me especially sad; she was a leader who had to fight her way through Pakistan's complex politics that revels in tribalism, religious bigotry and male chauvinism.

Benazir was not a demure Pakistani-Indian girl, even though she chose to dress conservatively -- covered from head to toe. She was a strongly-built woman who had oodles of charm. She exuded a strange aura of attractiveness, enhanced by a voice that was uniquely husky, perhaps because of the throat condition she developed as a result of her marathon rounds of public addresses.

Before Benazir joined politics, she lived a privileged life and she studied at Harvard. But her comfortable early years could never compensate for the unending hardships she endured after she threw herself into Pakistani politics.

Quite interestingly, till the end, she remained the only vote-gatherer and the sole rallying point for the Pakistan Peoples Party -- a party that was once called the Permanently Pregnant Party because Benazir gave birth to three children soon after she joined politics.

The people of Pakistan simply doted on this Daughter of the East. Her style of leadership, and her aristocratic lineage, dazzled the elite while her carefully cultivated image of a dutiful mother and wife helped the masses relate to her.

That Benazir was the moderate face of Pakistan is not in doubt, but whether she was India's greatest friend will remain a subject of much debate. What no one can take away from her, though, is that she chose to criticise the fundamentalists openly, and almost as vehemently as Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf [Images]. For a woman with three children who was living in exile, and who faced lurking threats to her life at every turn she took, this required bravery and guts.

Some say her tirade against the forces of fundamentalism was a well-calculated risk; it was the only way she would be considered an acceptable alternative to Musharraf by the United States that remains so much in awe of the latter's ability and determination to fight fundamentalism. While this may be partly true, I think she had huge courage to speak so openly against fundamental elements, something Nawaz Sharif hasn't done half as well so far.

Which takes us to another level. What would have happened if she were to win the elections and be at the helm of affairs in Pakistan? Would she have fought the fundamental forces as bravely as Musharraf? Would she have softened her stand in exchange for relative peace and prosperity?

As far as I am concerned, Musharraf remains the best man to fight the Al Qaeda [Images]. The former general really hates them and wants to model his country around Turkey, the modern secular republic established by the nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk.

People are gunning for Musharraf because they feel he is partly responsible for Benazir's assassination. Nothing could be far from the truth. In fact, Musharraf and Benazir might have entered a secret pact wherein the latter would have become prime minister and would have been in charge of trade, commerce, economy and foreign relations. The former would have continued to mind the domestic agenda, America's agenda of eliminating the Al Qaeda and its ilk from Pakistan and establishing democracy in Pakistan.

The vision, though good, was not easy to achieve; according to an expert on CNN, a recent survey revealed that 42% of the Pakistanis have a soft corner for the Al Qaeda. Perhaps it required a woman of Benazir's charisma to wean away the misguided youth from the shambles the state finds itself in today.

The citizens of Pakistan want democracy and a better standard of living but don't want it to flow from Uncle Sam's dishevelled beard. They perhaps find the fundamentalists attractive only because of the anti-American stance these groups take.

Where does Pakistan go from here?

Here's what I feel. The polls must be conducted. A democratically elected, popular government must be sworn in. Musharraf must continue to fight the fundamentalists. He is the best man for the job and the only man who has the guts to do so.

Benazir, the incomparable, is dead. May God grant her the peace that eluded her in life. This is my prayer for the Daughter of Destiny.

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