By Wajahat Latif
Ms Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007. She was 54. Her death was a national trauma, unprecedented since Liaquat Ali Khan was killed on October 16, 1951. He was 55. Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time, had just begun his speech in a public meeting on an Autumn afternoon in the Rawalpindi municipal gardens when an assassin, sitting yards away from him, shot him twice in the chest. The garden was subsequently named Liaquat Bagh in his memory.
Approximately after fifty-six years, Ms Bhutto delivered a speech in the same garden, to a mammoth public gathering, on a cold winter afternoon. She was killed as she waved to a slogan chanting crowd of admirers through the sliding roof of her bullet proof vehicle on her way out of the venue. Ms Bhutto had served as prime minister twice.
Ms Bhutto too was likely the victim of an assassin’s bullet (Ms Sherry Rehman who was with the body in the hospital later gave a statement that she saw a bullet wound on her neck). Seconds after she was hit, there was a massive blast not far from her car.
Liaquat’s killer was shot dead on the spot, possibly by the police. Popular perception does not rule out the hidden role of the establishment in the two killings. The doctor, who attended to Ms Benazir in the hospital happens to be the son of the physician who attended to the bleeding Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. Weird coincidences, eerie parallels; except that in Ms Bhutto’s case, the person with a gun seen by the world in the much televised footage has not, so far, been identified.
Nor was anyone else identified. After the October 18, 2007 carnage at Karachi when her massive reception turned into tragedy, she wrote a letter to Pervez Musharraf naming three top officials in his government of conspiring to kill her.
As it turned out, she was killed but not much was done about her letter in public knowledge. In the days following her assassination, there was some discussion of it in the media but the question of political succession dominated the stage. In the deals, negotiations and intrigues that followed, the letter was forgotten.
The general election scheduled for January 8, 2008 was held, in the event, on February 18. As expected, the PPP obtained a majority in the centre and Sindh but not in Punjab. Punjab was swept by the Muslim League (N); the party the PPP had signed the Charter of Democracy with (in 2007). The top leaders of the two parties then met in Murree and signed the so-called Murree Accord and went on to form coalition governments in the centre and the provinces (mainly Punjab).
When Ms Bhutto was assassinated, there was a caretaker government of Musharraf’s handpicked individuals sans credibility. People began to demand an investigation into her death by the Scotland Yard which Musharraf rejected in the beginning, relenting later. Ms Bhutto’s family and the PPP, with an understandable lack of confidence in the administration, demanded a UN investigation commission, similar to Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in Beirut in 2005.
But the UN investigation into Rafik Hariri’s assassination was demanded by the US, EU and the UN (with an ouster of Syria from Lebanon), and Lebanon agreed to it only after they were assured that their sovereignty would be respected and the Lebanese authorities would be associated with the investigations, albeit not in a controlling position. The UN has issued several reports in the case and has since established a tribunal which is going to open in the suburbs of The Hague in 2009. By that time Prime Minister Rafik Hariri would have been dead for over four years.
Responding to a request from Musharraf, the British prime minister sent a Scotland Yard team. The terms of reference given to the team by the government were wishy washy and they ended up trying to determine the “cause” of her death. In other words, they were not here to answer the fundamental question agitating the mind of every citizen: who killed Benazir Bhutto?
After much ado, the team came up with a rather unlikely explanation: death caused by a head injury from the lever of the sunroof of the vehicle. No one buys this.
Benazir’s assassination put Musharraf on the spot and completely changed the political scenario in Pakistan. But even six months after BB’s death, other than a letter to the UN secretary general from the foreign office and a routine enquiry by the Joint Investigation Team under the Anti Terrorist Act in Rawalpindi adjourned last Saturday till June 12, not much is being done about the gruesome tragedy.
It is unbelievable that all this is happening – or not happening – when PPP, the party hallowed by the Bhutto mystique, is in the government. Such is the squalid reality of Pakistan!
Source: The Nation, 6/6/2008