Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir's Murder and the Inconsolable Grief of the Pakistani People

Taimur Rahman

Tragically, the fate of the first female prime minister in the Muslim world has met with a violent end. The people of Pakistan are gripped by inconsolable grief at the news of the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

In the PPP the people of Pakistan saw a mainstream political party that spoke about the rights of poor people. The slogan of roti, kapra, makan (bread, clothes, housing) galvanized millions against the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan in the late 1960s. The democratic reforms undertaken by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto challenged the interests of the traditional ruling class of Pakistan. The ruling class in turn began to support Islamic fundamentalism and military rule as a counter-weight to this democratic upsurge. After Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the religious fundamentalist regime of Zia ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto led the PPP for the restoration of democracy. Despite the ostensible return of democracy in 1988, the establishment continued to harbour intense hatred and refused to reconcile themselves to the "populist" currents of the PPP. General Pervaiz Musharraf treated the PPP no different than all previous military dictators. Political rumors notwithstanding, repression within the country forced Benazir into an eight year exile.

The "war on terror", however, forced the army to renege with great reluctance its long-standing collaboration with religious fundamentalists. Seething with hatred, the fundamentalists made a serious bid for power this July leading to the episode of the lal masjid (red mosque). Benazir was the only national leader with the courage to take a clear and uncompromising stance against Islamic extremism. Moreover, she was the only political leader with the popular support that made such a statement legitimate and gave it weight.

Given the precarious position of Musharraf's dictatorship, Benazir's stance opened up the opportunity for a softening of the attitude of the military towards the PPP. The military saw it as an opportunity to stabilize their rule. The PPP saw it as an opportunity to get their principle leader back into the country. The West saw this as an opportunity to stabilize Pakistan and keep it focused on the "war on terror". People, groaning under poverty and increasing cost of living, saw it as an opportunity to obtain some relief. And the fundamentalists saw it as the incarnation of their greatest mortal enemy. The latter openly declared that they would kill Benazir if she dared to return. In October, upon Benazir's return to Karachi, they tried and failed. Today they did not.

The overwhelming number of people hold the military dictatorship of General Pervaiz Musharraf responsible for failing to provide adequate security. Furthermore, the finger of suspicion cannot so easily be lifted away from elements within the establishment. Benazir herself stated that in addition to Islamic fundamentalists in tribal areas, she suspected that certain elements within the ISI also wanted her dead.

While there will be many who try to minimize the public outcry against this incident by pointing to the many short-comings, inconsistencies and faults of the PPP, it is clear that the biggest fault of Benazir was that she spoke for the secularism, democracy and most importantly for the rights of the poor and dispossessed of Pakistan. For this fault, she was prepared to and did pay the ultimate price.

The Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party condemns the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

Down with religious fundamentalism and military rule!
Long live a peoples revolution!

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