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Al Qaeda does not have a mailing address

December 28, 2007 17:16 IST
It was her finest speech they say when Benazir spoke at Liaquat Bagh on December 27. Little did the Daughter of the East know that this was her swansong. But those who killed her did not just kill her -- they killed the hopes for democracy in Pakistan. Weeping Pakistanis have been heard saying, 'Ab kuchh nahi bacha is mulk mein (there's nothing left in this country).'

Benazir had seen a lot of life in her 54 years. Born to utmost luxury and a privileged upbringing, Benazir of Harvard and Oxford was blooded into politics quite early in her life when she accompanied her father to Simla in 1972 for talks with then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

She was just out of college and 24 years old when General Zia-ul Haq hanged her father and imprisoned her along with her mother; 32 years old when her younger brother Shah Nawaz was poisoned in Cannes; and 43 when her other brother Murtaza was murdered in Karachi. She was already in her second term as prime minister when Murtaza was killed, and was dethroned soon after that.

Those were turbulent times and the Punjabi political cliques, the army and the feudals could not accept the idea of a Sindhi woman ruling over them. She simply had to go. Soon after this she was harassed out of Pakistan and she chose to live in exile in Dubai and London with her three children and ailing mother Nusrat.

Yet, none of these adversities dampened her resolve or her ebullient spirit. Those who knew her, remember her as somebody who retained her ability to laugh at herself, will to fight for the cause of Pakistan. She had the fortitude to bring up her three children mostly on her own as her husband spent long years in jail without trial. Benazir had the courage to return to Pakistan knowing that there would be assassins waiting for her. She had the largeness of heart to admit that in her two incarnations as prime minister she was unnecessarily hostile to India and strident on Kashmir.

On the first occasion because she also half-believed in this, but the second time she knew she had to deal with the army who called the shots on India, Afghanistan and strategic nuclear issues. She probably felt obliged that as the first woman prime minister in the Islamic world, she had to prove herself as tough as they come in a male dominated, conservative, India-bashing Punjabi milieu. Yet the army kept a watch on her, tapped her telephone and did not let her visit the Kahuta nuclear complex.

The mutual animus can be traced back to the way her father treated Zia and how Zia eventually had his revenge when he hanged him. The Bhutto-army relations were tenuous throughout and remained so till the end. Although she negotiated with Musharraf for her return, she never really trusted him. She accepted that the pressure on her to negotiate with Musharraf was not because there was urgency to install her as prime minister but to give Musharraf's rule some legitimacy.

It was during this second term and her exile that she began to rethink about Pakistan and the subcontinent. She realised that this business of jihad was taking Pakistan downstream rapidly and bringing Pakistan into direct confrontation with the West. This had to be curbed; also that the peace dividend with India would be much higher than the war dividend.

Benazir had great hopes for the region and spoke of soft borders in Jammu and Kashmir. She was not, however, sure how she would restrain the army and make it answerable to a civilian leadership. And this, in the end, proved to be the most difficult aspect of her homecoming.

Benazir's assassination is not the first political assassination in Pakistan and like all previous assassinations, will remain unsolved. It was not just a terrorist act and to describe it thus is to evade the real issue. It is very convenient to have the Al Qaeda claim that they killed her; but then Al Qaeda does not have a mailing address.

In all such cases of assassinations, the opportunity to act, and access to the target, are the most important aspects. Once these two are available and there are guns for hire, the rest is easy as a matter of patient waiting, or a speedy arrival and quick escape.

Benazir used to say that unless she went back to the people they would never believe in her. And now many in Pakistan and on the subcontinent grieve for her. Her brother Murtaza returned to Pakistan and was killed and she returned to Pakistan and she was killed as well.

Benazir represented modernity and tolerance in a society whose controllers are becoming increasingly intolerant and bigoted while the small civil society looks on, helpless and afraid.

From today, in Garhi Khuda Bux in Larkana, she will forever lie next to her father -- the man she admired and loved the most. She will sleep in peace and no longer be touched by the turbulence of her life.

Is this the end of the Bhutto era, or should one say 'Jiye Bhutto (Long live Bhutto)'?

Vikram Sood is a former Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing

Vikram Sood