Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Was Here And Now She's Gone...

"I didn't choose this life. It chose me." -BENAZIR BHUTTO

She had glamorous good looks, spoke fluent English, and had a tolerant religious outlook, which Western politicians and journalists -- many of whom had known her since her studies at Harvard and Oxford -- found both refreshing and attractive. And though author Salman Rushdie’s lampooned her as the "Virgin Ironpants" in his novel "Shame," she did not issue fatwas against him like the Islamic fundamentalists did when he published his book "The Satanic Verses" in 1979.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007), who was viciously assassinated in a suicide bomb attack two days ago, was fully aware that she was putting her own life on the line when she returned to her homeland last October. From the get-go, she was embroiled in political controversy. In fact, she was no stranger to the violence that took her life; it defined her family history.. Her father was executed by hanging on the orders of General Zia ul-Haq in 1979 following a military coup, and her two brothers were subsequently murdered. She was twice unceremoniously dumped from political office, was imprisoned on corruption charges, and was forced to live in exile and raise her three children alone while her husband served an eight-year jail term.

On the Huffington Post web site, Arianna Huffington fondly remembered Ms. Bhutto from their days when Benazir attended Oxford and Arianna at Cambridge. Arianna notes, "She was fearlessness epitomized. Many will debate her political successes and failures, her personal probity in public office, the charges of corruption against her and of course the national security implications of her death, but for now I'm just filled with a profound sadness about the end of a woman that was always brimming with life."

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, also sadly notes, "Bhutto's assassination is a blow to people all over Pakistan, and the world, who hold life sacred and believe in the basics precepts of democracy. It is also a blow to women worldwide who took strength from seeing such a courageous, articulate and charismatic woman playing a leadership role in a powerful Muslim country. Inside Pakistan, even her most bitter critics wept at the news of her death, understanding that it is indeed a dark day when assassination becomes a tool for eliminating opposing viewpoints."

And Earl Ofari Hutchinson has a fascinating take on the Bhutto assassination: "The old quip that was tossed out about Richard Nixon and his role in the Watergate debacle was: What did he know and when did he know it. We can also add: Who stood to gain the most from the discrediting or the outright elimination of his political opponents and popular critics? As subsequent events more than revealed, Nixon knew a lot, and did a lot to discredit and eliminate (politically and personally) his opponents and critics. It's almost always painfully true that far too many government higher-ups will go to any lengths to discredit their political opponents or the radical critics of their policies when they are seen to pose a direct threat...The Nixon quip amply applies to the horrific and cowardly murder of Bhutto. What did her opponents know, and that starts with the man at the top, President Pervez Musharraf, and when did they know it about the murder? The two other names of slain non-government leaders that immediately came to mind when news of the Bhutto killing broke were Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The circumstances surrounding their assassinations bear an uncanny similarity to Bhutto's and again tragically underscore the point that political opponents are always at mortal risk to wind up victims of political murder when they are seen as threats. It's equally tragic that some government agencies are indirectly complicit in their killings by turning a blind eye to the danger of assassination, ignoring or covering up details of the killing, and whitewashing their final report on the assassination."

This was much more than a political assassination. This was a brutal murder of a woman who both symbolized power and an insurgent challenge. With her assassination, Pakistan is now facing down the specter of civil war. The nuclear-armed state is now facing its worst political crisis in decades. Not only is its fledgling democracy in jeopardy, the assassination is now threatening both Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's grip on power and his role in the ongoing war on terrorism.

There is no doubt Bhutto was the target of threats from virtually all of the militant groups who make Pakistan their home — from al-Qaida to homegrown terrorists to tribal insurgents on the Afghan border. In fact, as she notes in her autobiography, "I know that I am a symbol of what the so-called jihadists, Taliban and al-Qaeda, most fear...I am a female political leader fighting to bring modernity, communication, education and technology to Pakistan."

You can bet your bottom dollar Islamic hard-liners are rejoicing at this turn of events, and this would only serve to embolden them to do more hideous acts of murder in the future. As a reader in the London Telegraph succinctly put it, "(The) road ahead for Pakistan has been possibly irretrievably buckled by an earthquake set off by fools."

Heartbreaking. Pathetic. Tragic. Furher words fail me.

December 28, 2007 UPDATE: Meanwhile, back at the blogsphere at both the Huffington Post and beyond, the Internet has been buzzing over the ripple effects stemming from Bhutto's assassination. On today's Huffington Post blog posting, Joe Lauria has this fascinating hypothesis:

"The inevitable question after any assassination is: who benefited from it? The answer in this case is Musharraf and the extremists. Bhutto was the enemy of both. Could they have worked together to eliminate her?

With her murder Musharraf has had his chief rival removed and he can resume his authoritarian rule with the Americans off his back: Washington has nowhere else to turn. He is the man. He has secured power--for the time being anyway. Musharraf has played America brilliantly. His intelligence service helped create and still has ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Indeed, Bhutto accused him of harboring extremists for just such an attack. Their claim of responsibility gives Musharraf deniability, since he is supposed to be fighting them.

Now Musharraf can clamp down on the human rights and democracy crowd, his real enemy, while running his phony war against extremists, all the while taking American military aid intended to fight terrorism and use it to upgrade his defenses against India. A very clever, but dastardly plan."

Concurring on this angle, the Rude Pundit observes, " If Pervez Musharraf didn't know about it ahead of time, then he's the worst kind of dictator, the kind who doesn't actually control his country...If he did know about it, even if he simply let it happen, then he's the regular kind of dictator...Either way, Pakistan's screwed, with nukes in the middle of the screwing and the Bush administration somewhere between active incompetence and blithe enabling in this situation, which means, as ever, we're screwed.

Meanwhile, Amy Wilentz shared with the Post what Bhutto shared with her during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

The day after 9/11, Bhutto told me already then she had received intelligence that she was the "next target" of Al Qaeda after they had assassinated the Afghan resistance leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Masood, several days before the attack on New York. In order to protect their position in Afghanistan, he needed to be eliminated. Once he was gone, they feared she was the one popular leader who could rally Pakistanis against them and the Taliban, even from exile, and spoil Pakistan's support and indulgence of the Taliban's protective rule. Wilentz goes on to add, "Bhutto's advice after 9/11 was straightforward -- and not followed. "Islamabad," she said, " is the jugular vein of Kabul. Clean up Islamabad and the Afghan (Al Qaeda) camps start falling like dominoes."...Instead, the US looked to General Musharraf and accepted on face value his strongman guarantees that he would crack down on extremism. We bombed Afghanistan, routed some camps, chased Osama to the border with Pakistan, then moved on to Iraq -- the wrong war against the wrong enemy -- leaving the nourishment flowing from Islamabad to the extremists.

This was not only Bhutto's view, but also that of the French intellectual, Bernard-Henri Levy, who wrote a book on the death of Daniel Pearl, and whom I interviewed at the end of (last) November.
During that interview, Levy noted, "In Pakistan, there is a substantial moderating middle class, which Bhutto represents, that is an important force for progress. We must admire, on this score, the personal courage of Benazir Bhutto defying both the forces of tyranny and the jihad. Courage, of course, is always a surprise. But it is not only courage. She also senses part of the opinion is moving. Will it move fast enough? Of this, I'm not sure."

In the aftermath of Bhutto's assassination, Marie Wilson comments, "Bhutto's murder will be widely covered in the days to come. Yet there are women throughout the world who are not well known like Bhutto, women who also care so deeply about how their country is governed that they risk being raped, disappeared or murdered when they run for office. Just last week, Margaret Wanjiru -- a parliamentary candidate in Kenya's general elections -- was reportedly attacked while campaigning in the capital. And there are women like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, who once elected, lead under conditions that expose them daily to the danger of being assassinated. She goes to add, "Women in the United States are not usually subjected to such extreme forms of violence and intimidation when they enter the political fray. Yet there are many women in this country who dare not run for office for fear of rough treatment in the press, or because politics is such a "dirty" business. A threatening prospect, perhaps, to many women. But it won't kill you. Benazir Bhutto may have been a contentious political figure, but she was a pioneer in women's leadership, paving the way for women to lead on the global stage. And if more women led, and more voices and options were on the table, as we say at The White House Project, it could change everything."

But what really got my acid reflux in overdrive was Rudolph Guiliani's stud posturing on last night's Larry King Live. Not only did he shamelessly exploit an already dreadful tragedy by claiming that he would be the man to resolve the crisis, his utter lack of any understanding -- if not total ignorance -- of both the history and the dynamics of Pakistan's politics was on display for the world to see. This was political opportunism and shameless self-exploitation all rolled into one. Needless to say, Sherman Yellen's depiction of Guiliani as a "the kid who throws the firecracker into the crowd to disperse it and causes more death and destruction." is right on target. And the Rude Pundit called the exploitative grandstandings by Guiliani and other GOP Presidential hopefuls for what it was: nearly instantaneous necrophilia.

And now, a word from Prilosec OTC.

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