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'Benazir was ready to fight the extremists'
G Parthasarthy
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December 27, 2007
My wife and I had a warm relationship with Benazir Bhutto [Images] when I was India's high commissioner in Pakistan. In fact, when she was under house arrest in the eighties, she was my neighbour.

I am sorry to hear of her death. She was a woman in an Islamic country and she had shown outstanding courage in taking on religious extremists. She will be remembered for it.

Her father was hanged by the Punjabi dictator General Zia-ul Haq. Now, she has been assassinated because the security provided to her was inadequate. Like her father's death, her death too will provoke deep emotions in Sindh against the dominance of the Punjabi establishment.

President Pervez Musharraf [Images] has already damaged Nawaz Sharif badly. Both Sharif and his brother Shahbaz cannot contest the election. Sharif's party has been spilt. His cadre is demoralised.

But Musharraf could not damage Benazir's political prospects because the Americans would not have allowed him to do so. Also, Musharraf has a personal enmity with Nawaz Sharif, but not with Benazir.

I believe one of the pro-Taliban groups could be behind her killing. They will be one of the prime suspects. The fact that she created the Taliban now seems like an irony.

Benazir's assassination will further fragment the mainstream political parties in Pakistan. There were those who argued that she was an American stooge, but I feel that was overstated.

Unfortunately, after her death, there is not a single leader or inheritor in her party, the Pakistan People's Party, or in her family who can match her stature. If you look at the survivors of the Bhutto family, her sister does not have any political background while her sister-in-law is a Lebanese. I doubt if her husband Asif Ali Zardari will be accepted as a mass leader.

Any election held under such circumstances will be farcical; it will lack credibility. In such a charged atmosphere, campaigning is not possible. Pro-government parties will be the beneficiary if the elections are held.

Benazir was one leader from a mainstream party who was ready to fight the extremists. Nawaz is ambivalent on this issue. Her death is a setback for the US gameplan in the region.

Musharraf, too, will be in dilemma. Since he is no longer the army chief, he will not opt for martial law under which the army chief takes the charge of the country. Pakistan is facing a serious crisis.

G Parthasarthy spoke to Sheela Bhatt

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