“Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is an attack on Pakistan.” This comment of the house arrest President of Supreme Court Bar Association, Mr. Atizaz Ahsan, best reflects the sentiments of all Pakistanis. Apprehending strong reaction in her home province, Mr. Ahsan sent a very strong message to the people of Sindh that Benazir was a leader of all Pakistanis and Punjab stands with them in this ghastly tragedy.
Benazir was a national leader. Her Peoples’ Party is the only national political party which has roots in all the four provinces particularly Sindh and Punjab. There has been violent reaction in several towns throughout Pakistan including Quetta, Pashawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Faisalabad but most violent reaction was seen in Karachi, Sukkur, Larkana and other inner towns in Sindh where army was deployed to control the situation.
What will be the implications of her assassination in Rawalpindi where her father Zulkifar Ali Bhutto was executed almost 29 years back? Ironically, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s body was transported by a C-130 plane from Chaklala airport to his home province and her daughter’s body was also transported abroad a C-130 plane from Chaklala airport. In another repeat of history, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1952 in the same garden where she lost her life.
Benazir was a very polished and skilled politician with strong political connections with the corridors of power in Washington and London. Independent newspaper’s report about her assassination (titled: “Worried Washington is being forced back into arms of unreliable Musharraf”) best reflects this connection. After eight years in exile she was able to energize and mobilize her party with Washington/London-blessed return home after her self-imposed exile. This has definitely alarmed many factions and elements in the country.
Only the time will tell what will be the repercussions of her assassination on national politics in the long term but one thing can be said with some certainly that her murder will foment Sindhi nationalism and provide a new ammunition to the Sindhi nationalist movements with separatist leanings. If this happens, it will not be a good omen for the federation.
There cannot be two opinions on the fact that Benazir was not assassinated because she was from Sindh. But who can stop self-serving Sindhi elements to exploit her murder as we see exploitation of the 2006 killing of the Baluch leader Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti who has now become an icon of Baluchi separatists.
Certain Sindhi politicians already complain that Punjab has sent back bodies of two of their Prime Ministers and a third one was sent home dishonorably. Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan (from Sindh) was assassinated in 1952. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in Rawalpindi in April 1979 in a controversial murder case. Mohammad Khan Junejo was sacked dishonorably by General Ziaul Haq when the prime minister was on an official visit to the Philippines. To humiliate Junejo, General Zia did not wait his return home.
Now, in an almost repeat of 1952 episode, Benazir has been assassinated, as some reports suggest, by a suicide bomber who first opened fire at her and then blew up himself. Liaqat Ali Khan was murdered by a hired assassin, Said Akbar, who was shot dead by a police officer who was rewarded with promotion.
Who assassinated Benazir? This is a question mark and likely to remain a big question mark. We are unable to find out who was behind the murder of Liaqat Ali Khan in 56 years. However, our efficient security agencies provide some clue to Benazir’s assassination. They have already found the head of the suicide bomber, hence, there may not be any more need for further investigation. And to foreclose the file, Pakistan’s military government has put the blame on all omnipresent Al Qaeda for her assassination. This relieves the government from further probe.
The assassination of Benazir is no doubt a big national tragedy that may have unpredictable consequences. She was a victim of the volatile national politics and terrorism. We should all pray and work for national cohesion and support the fig-leaf of democracy in the making by the Pakistani ruling elite.