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Benazir's Assassination and September 11

By Nadeem Qureshi  Posted by Abdus Sattar Ghazali (about the submitter)     Permalink
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In the Oscar winning 1976 film "Network" an ageing anchorman tells his viewers to go to their
windows and scream: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more". The tragic,
unnecessary death of Benazir Bhutto makes me want to do something of the sort.

I remember her as a charming, attractive young woman when she came to Karachi Grammar
School to do her "A" levels. I was two years behind her with her brother, Murtaza, who was
more commonly known amongst his friends as "Mir". Their younger sister, Sanam was with my
sister, Samira, at the Convent. Sanam was very close to Samira and a frequent visitor to our
house in Bath Island. I cannot say I was one of Mir's closest friends, but I liked him very much,
and remember on occasion being invited to 70 Clifton for his birthdays.

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There was something about the Bhutto children that made them truly exceptional. It was not
their intelligence, or their good looks, or their wealth, all of which they had in abundance. Their
father, during this period, was a man to be reckoned with. He was a former foreign minister
busy in building the PPP. Yet his children had no airs at all. They were down to earth, humble,
kind, well mannered, sympathetic and generous. To me, even then, young as I was, this was an
immediately appealing quality.

During our studies, Mr. Bhutto was elected Prime Minister. Mir and Sanam were moved to
Islamabad and Benazir went off to Harvard. It was the last time I was to see Mir. Even though
our paths did cross a few years later when he was at Harvard and I was at MIT. Both universities
are in Cambridge, Massachusetts. All that separates them is a short bus ride. Many times I
thought I should call Mir and try to get together. Several years had passed since I knew him in
Grammar School. And I was restrained by the feeling that he might think I wanted to see him
now that he was the son of the Prime Minister. I should have known better. Mir was no ordinary
son of any Prime Minister. He was a gem.

The first time that I met Benazir after the Grammar School days was by coincidence when we
were seated together on a flight from Karachi to Islamabad. These were the days after her first
return from exile. She was busy trying to rally her party. We were given 'bulkhead' seats in
economy class. She did not remember me but seemed to recall my name. When she realized I
had been with Mir at school she was delighted. We talked about mutual friends. I asked her
about Mir – he was in exile in Damascus at the time. She said he was well and she was hoping
that he would be back soon. She was interested to know what I was doing. It was a short flight. I
did not see her again. And never will.

I have felt a deep and personal loss at her passing. This was a wonderful, intelligent, vibrant
woman whose life was thoughtlessly and frivolously wasted. And it is not just the man who
pulled the trigger or the fuse who killed her. It is all of us; you and me – for continuing to put up
with the state of affairs as they are. This madness must end.

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And it can end. But achieving this will take a fundamental change in the thinking that has
dominated our Government's policy since the events of 11 September 2001. That is where our
problems begin. And that is where we must return to understand where we are, and hence, to
chart a course to where we must go.

The immediate question that came into everyone's mind after the events of that day was: Why?
Why would 19 educated, young Arab men, with ostensibly bright futures, want to sacrifice their
lives? This was a natural question. And many American commentators and analysts initially
sought to know the answer. But then, suddenly, the question was disallowed, on the spurious
ground that posing it was tantamount to justifying terrorism. This warped logic was then
wrapped in the fervour of patriotism. It was suddenly un‐American to even ask!

This was a tragedy of its own. Had the question been allowed, the American people would have
learned that the 9/11 attacks were in fact a direct consequence of their government's policy in
the Middle East. It was the consequence of (the still) simmering Arab anger over America's
seemingly blind support for Israeli repression of the Palestinians.

Had the question been allowed, the American people would have realized that the appropriate
response would have been to have a balanced foreign policy in the Middle East. Humanity
would have been spared the continuing tragedy it faces today in Iraq, Afghanistan and across
the Muslim and Arab world. Tens of thousands of Muslims and several thousand young
American men and women would still be alive. And, yes, had the question been asked, Benazir
may still be alive.

Why the American Establishment chose to disallow the question is not our concern. It is best
left to historians and anthropologists. What is our concern is the impact this fateful decision
had on Pakistan.

America was at war with Terror. This was a disembodied phantom whose habitat was thought
to be the Near and Middle East. Its acolytes were bearded, hirsute and turbaned Muslims. They
exuded hate for the Western way of life. They would get America if America didn't get them.
And so the strategy was to get them first.

When Pakistan signed up to be an ally, this mindset was transposed unaltered to the Pakistani
Establishment. This was to have tragic consequences for all Pakistan's. The 'enemy' had been
defined so broadly that perhaps more than half of the male population of Pakistan could, by this
definition, be deemed 'terrorists'. This did not matter to America. These 'terrorists' did not live
in Texas. They lived in the NWFP. The Pakistani Army was sent in to kill and capture them.
These hapless troops had the almost impossible task of distinguishing friend from foe: Who was
a terrorist? And who was just a simple, bearded, gun toting Pathan going about his every day
business?

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What seemed to have escaped the Pakistani Establishment was that the overwhelming majority
of Pakistanis are deeply conservative people. This is especially true of the provinces that are
contiguous with Afghanistan. These are fiercely conservative tribal people who have lived their
lives in this way for centuries. They were already angry about the forced 'modernization' and
the battle against 'obscurantism' that seemed to have become Government policy since 2001.
Who was the Government to tell them how to live their lives? Who was the Government to
beam dozens of satellite channels into their ultra conservative homes with (to them)
scandalously unacceptable content under the guise of modernity and enlightenment? Who was
the Government to tell their women to remove their veils and uncover their heads?

So when the Army moved in they ‐ and perhaps the majority of Pakistani's ‐ had already had
enough. If you are a stranger in the NWFP and say 'Salaam' to a Pathan he welcomes you as an
honoured guest and will lay down his life to protect yours. Cross him, though, and you have
made a mortal enemy. So what do you expect when the army moves in with helicopter gun
ships, and unmanned, unseen aircraft rain death and destruction on these people and their
loved ones? The Government is at war with its own people. And this particular group of people
is willing to fight to the end, and will strike with whatever means it has at its disposal. This is a
clearly disproportionate battle. The Army has to find legitimate targets. The 'enemy' can slink
into any part of the country, attack an infinitude of 'targets' and disappear into think air. It is a
battle the army cannot win.

This is where we stand today: Suicide bombs, sabotage of critical infrastructure, attacks on
military convoys and targets, assassinations. Am I justifying terrorism? I don't know. All I know
is that this is the truth.

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